Writing 101…Anatomy of a Scene

Words are the stock and trade of every writer, but some authors get too caught up in their own words. When you’re writing out a scene involving any sort of character action at all — even when it’s talking — you also have to work out the logistics. If you can’t put yourself inside of every scene and picture exactly what’s happening, you’ve got a real problem.

 


Get Back Inside the Box

The environment the characters live in is just as important as the characters themselves. Your characters are only extraordinary or special when compared to everything else around them. How they move is just as relevant as how they think. That’s why you’ve got to think about your books three-dimensionally, not just the way they read on the page.

Just about every room in the world is shaped like a box. Some boxes are bigger than others, some substantially so. Some are elongated so they’re more rectangular in shape. Some are enclosed with walls made of plaster, others with windows of glass. Put yourself inside a room with your characters. In that room, you’re the only thing that doesn’t take up space.

Envision each scene as you write them, and see yourself and your characters inside that box together. In most cases they will be standard human beings who must stand upon the ground, so remember that. Is there also furniture in this room? Maybe they’re going to have to move around it to get to one side of the room or the other. Are there other people in this room? Where are they standing? What needs to happen so that the characters may complete the actions the scene requires?

You’ve always got to think about their actions. If you have two characters who are supposed to be talking at a party, don’t have them standing and shouting across the room at each other. Don’t allow me to picture it playing out this way. Explain to me where they’re at in relation to the rest of the party. Are they in a corner, by a window? By the buffet table, off to the side? Maybe they stepped out onto the balcony, or into a back room.

If you can’t picture it as it’s happening, you’ve got to change the scene until you canpicture it. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to picture it as the reader, and I want to picture every single scene.

 

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog in 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.

Writing 101…Sell More Books

It is a truth universally accepted that a reader in possession of a good book must be in want of another good book, and as a self-published author this is the mantra you must adopt. After your book is written, and published, and promoted, there’s only one thing left to do: write more. Want to sell more books? Then start writing more books.

You’re Only As Good As…

What’s your favorite song right this minute? What was your favorite song, one year ago on this day? Do you even remember? Most people probably won’t, for one simple reason: there’s always something new. There’s a new singer to hear, a new food to try, a new show to watch, a new book to read. No matter how remarkable or fantastic your book, eventually it will be eclipsed by another. Just ask J. K. Rowling, and 10 millionTwilight fans, how quickly the tide of the MTV movie awards can turn against you.
Unless you write a book that becomes the basis of a religion, or come up with something wildly popular like the 50 Shades trilogy, chances are darned good that your book won’t be self-sustaining. You have to promote it constantly, and after just a few months it’s already going to be old news anyway. The best way to keep your books, your brand, fresh is by offering more.
So, you’ve just got to write more books. In this business, you’re only as good as your last book…and even that isn’t going to last too long. People are always looking for what’s next, so in order for you to keep your name out there and keep readers interested you’ve got to give them what’s next.
  • Don’t take breaks from writing. When you’re done with a book, great! Drink a glass of champagne, high-five your friends, pat yourself on the back, and start thinking about your next project. Get to work on it immediately. If you need time to rest and relax, give yourself a week between books. No more. It’s time for what’s next.
  • Don’t stop promoting. Continue to promote all your old books. Re-releasethem with new covers and new extras; make them fresh and exciting again. Do this in-between promoting whatever your next book project is.
  • Don’t forget to tell your fans and reviewers. Whenever you have a new book coming out, make a big deal about it. Tell all the people who have reviewed you in the past. Offer them free books, tell them you’ve got something else they’re going to like. Do cross-promotions so your existing fans know you have something brand-new for them. “Did you like Red Heat? Then you’ll love my new book, Cold Wind.”
  • Don’t fail to use your new books to get new fans. There’s no way your last book appealed to everyone you wanted to target. Try again with this new book. If you gain brand-new readers, they might go back and read some of your older books while they’re at it.
If you’re only as good as your last book, then make that work for you. Make it work by producing new books and changing your reputation. If your work is very high-quality, well-written and well-edited, you will gain new readers and sell more books. Writing more books will make you more legitimate as an author, and will show that you’re committed to your craft. Readers like that, and they like having a lot of reading options. Give it to them, and you’ll sell more books.

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog in 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.

Writing 101…Ask Three Questions…

Writing a book is incredibly difficult. Writing a great book is practically impossible. When you sit down to write yours, ask and answer three questions. If you break writing down to its simplest form, you’ll find it’s really not so difficult after all. Master the basics, and all the rest is just polish.
Three Questions
Every novel, no matter how thick or complicated, revolves around three specific questions. Ask them, and make sure you know the answers, when you’re writing yours.
  • Who?
Every novel needs at least one main character. Juggling more than one main is hard, but it can create a very rich and engaging story. Make your main character(s) interesting and identifiable, and your readers will enjoy finding out about them.
  • Where?
 Every book has a setting. Research yours to make it real and rich on the page. Readers want details. What’s the weather like? What are the buildings like? What do the rooms look like? Good descriptive writing paints a picture without taking over the entire book — remember that no one wants to read your rambles about the way the curtains hang. Strike a good balance, and use the detail to add to the story instead of allowing it to swamp the story.
  • What?
You don’t have a book if you don’t have a plot. Stuff needs to happen in your book. Allow the readers to get to know the characters through specific events. Readers want to be put inside the story; they don’t want a story told to them. Use plot to make your book happy, funny, exciting, sad — any emotion you want to evoke.
If you can answer three questions, you’ve got what you need to start writing a book. It’s the idea and the imagination that matters. Mechanics will come later, after lots of editing and hard work. Once you’ve found your three answers, the really hard part is already over.

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog in 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.

Writing 101…Stepping Outside Your Genre

Self-published authors have to work hard to build up a fan base and to establish themselves as “real” authors in the eyes of their readers. That’s why stepping outside your genre and writing something completely different can be pretty tricky and scary business. What if you go out on a limb…and lose all of your fans? 

Outside the Box

After putting all that time and effort into building up a fan base, stepping outside that comfort zone with a totally different book is a brave thing to do (some might say foolish). While some of your fans may stay true, others may be turned off because they aren’t fans of that particular genre. That means you’ve got to start all over again, and start targeting fans in your new genre to find the readers that will be interested in this new book of yours.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s not all that different from all the marketing you’ve already done. You should re-focus your efforts with every new book you release, whether it’s in the same genre as your others or an altogether different one. Stepping outside your genre actually gives you a unique opportunity to gain an even bigger fan following, and reach out to readers you mightn’t find otherwise.
Don’t ever be afraid to make a change. One of the joys of self-publishing is that you get to do whatever you want, write whatever interests you, and let your own skills as an author develop and grow in any way you like. You don’t have to answer to anyone, uphold contracts or write sequels you aren’t really feeling. If you have to do some extra marketing to get more readers, that’s just something that comes with the job.

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog in 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.

Writing 101…How to Get Reviews

We already discussed writing reviews, and now it’s time for a topic that might be even more important to indie writers: getting reviews. Be willing to devote time to it, because reviews will help you as a writer in multiple ways.
How to Get Reviews
I feel confident in saying all indie writers want to get reviews from readers. Good reviews can add a certain appeal to your book, and they make it plain to book shoppers that someone, someday, read your book and felt strongly enough about it to write a review. People want what other people like; that’s just human nature. Having reviews can increase your sales and make your book look more interesting to readers. Now, all you’ve got to do is go out and get some.
  • Publish your book. If you want to get reviews, it helps to publish your book in multiple places. If you’re using Amazon’s KDP Select program, you actually don’t have this option — but you can still list your book at Goodreads. A social media site devoted to book readers, Goodreads can be a wonderful source of reviews for your work. The more places you can list your book, the more people will find it — and that means more reviews.
  • Find reviewers. I know, easier said than done. But once you know how to find reviewers, you’ll always have the skill — which is good, because you’ll need it again and again. The indie writer’s greatest resource is book blogs. Use your favorite search engine, and start seeking them out. There are lots of different ways to search. Look for blogs that cater to indie writers, blogs that cater to books within your genre, and blogs that discuss books and book reviews in general. Make a list of bookmarks for all the viable-looking blogs you find, and search their resource pages to find links to other book blogs.
  • Ask properly. Once you find potential book reviewers, don’t just flood them with free books and emails. Take the time to look around the blog and read some of the reviews. Look at the review policy to make sure your book meets all the right criteria. Then, and only then, write a brief email to the book reviewer. Introduce yourself and your book in one sentence or less. When asking for the review, tell the reviewer why you want them to review your work. Does it fit in with the other books on their blog? Do you like something about this reviewer’s specific style? Be succinct. Close the email with the blurb for your book, your relevant links and any other brief information you would like to include. Do not send them a free book; wait for them to ask you if they are interested.
  • Promote it. If you’re looking for reviews and reviewers, say so. Tweet about it, blog about it, announce it on Facebook. You can’t possibly find every available reviewer through an Internet search, and you never know who’s out there looking for new reading material.
  • Encourage it. Want readers to review your book? Tell them so. Include an “About the Author” at the end of your book, and invite readers to share their opinion of your work by reviewing it. Some readers simply don’t think of giving reviews. Why can’t you be the one to put the thought in their heads?
Trading Reviews
My own personal beliefs on reviews have evolved — quickly, I might add. I have a lot of thoughts on review trades that others don’t agree with, but to each their own. My opinion on the subject of trading reviews is this: don’t do it. I’m going to tell you why.
Indie writers are exactly like traditional writers in every single respect, without all the polish. Some indie writers are fantastic, with a strong command of editing skills, grammar and punctuation. But some indie writers areunbelievably bad at same. The moment you agree to a review trade with an indie that you don’t know and never have read, you’re more or less jumping off a cliff. Will you land on a pillowy-soft, fantastic book that cradles you gently in its pages…or into a pile of shite?
You have no way of knowing, and therein lies the problem with review trades. Here’s a review rule I live by: don’t ever commit. No one should have to clench their jaw, screw their courage to the sticking place and forcethemselves to waste time reading a book they positively hate in every single way. I’ve been there, and it’s not fun. You do a review trade, you commit, you open the door up for regret and eye-rolling that could last for days, even weeks. You can attempt to save yourself some pain by reading samples, working with only trusted indies and sticking to strict guidelines (I, for example, will not read your book if it isn’t justified the right way. No more exceptions).
Paying for Reviews
Lots of writers have lots of strong opinions about paid reviews. One of the more well-known is Kirkus, who by my book charges exorbitant and astronomical rates for their reviews. But a Kirkus review does carry a certain cachet, and some indie authors may have plenty of money to spend. Every business and every brand name is expected to spend money on marketing, and no indie can ever get the whole thing done completely for free (because, at the very least, you’ll have to pay for a copyright). So if you want to spend your money on reviews, spend it on reviews. It is, after all, your money.
Bad Reviews?
There are no bad reviews if you’re an indie writer. First of all, no matter what the review says you should sit back and bask in the glow of your computer screen regardless of anything. Why? Because you just moved someone with your writing — and isn’t that what you wanted? You actually motivated someone to write down their thoughts, you got them thinking, and you wrote something they remembered long enough to sign onto a website, at least. In today’s world, that’s no small achievement.
Second of all, any advice you get from any reader is valuable. Take every single comment seriously, no matter how it stings, because this one reader could be thinking something similar to dozens of other readers. You want to know what all your readers think, but in lieu of hunting them through cyberspace you’ve got to rely on the ones who feel strongly enough to comment. If you see a negative comment, think of it as a challenge. Here’s something you can improve upon in this book, or the next book, or tomorrow when you sit down to write a new chapter.

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog on 29th May 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.

Writing 101…How to Use Apostrophes

Apostrophes are an essential element in punctuation, but so many authors get their placement confused — or worse, leave them out entirely. A tiny little apostrophe can change the meaning of a sentence entirely, and when a wrong one appears it might just lead readers astray. Always be careful with your apostrophes, and learn how to use them well to make sure your words are getting the point across.

Using Apostrophes, Let Me Count the Ways

Apostrophes serve many extremely important functions in language; certain words could never even exist without them. To understand how to use apostrophes correctly, you’ve got to understand how, exactly, they’re used.
  • Missing letters
In certain circumstances, apostrophes can be used to represent missing letters — this is the case in absolutely every single contraction. Words likecan’tdon’tyou’re and all the rest rely upon apostrophes to exist. We get so used to seeing contractions, it’s easy to forget what they mean, easy to forget the function of the apostrophe. But without it, you’ve got two words that sound stiff and formal. In the examples above, without the apostrophes you’re working with cannotdo not and you are. The apostrophe takes the place of the letters and spaces that you’ve eliminated.
It’s important, because many writers have used the apostrophe as a device in dialogue. Certain regions of the world have their own specific accents and sayings. For example, no self-respecting southern writer would pen a tome set in the southern US without the word y’all in it. Brits are known for sayingi’n’it, a bastardization of isn’t it, and in words like this the apostrophe is essential to make the text understandable to readers who might not be familiar with regional speech. Because the apostrophe in y’all takes the place of the missing and u, you can never write this word as ya’ll — though I’ve seen this in several situations. It’s wrong, and it’s truly an insult to apostrophes everywhere (not to mention southerners). When you use contractions for any reason, don’t ever forget what the punctuation actually means.
  • Possession
Apostrophes don’t always represent missing letters; they’re also an integral device if you want to show ownership, or possession, of any object (or idea, or person, or what-have-you). For example: This is Jade Varden’s blog. Now, the apostrophe clearly shows that the possession (the blog) belongs to Jade Varden (that’s me!), and the apostrophe placement is correct.
See what happens when I put it in the wrong place: This is Jade Vardens’ blog. When the apostrophe appears after the s, rather than before, it’s used to denote plural possession. In the sentence above, the apostrophe suggests that there is more than one Jade Varden (which is no good for anybody, not to mention confusing for all the readers). The only time, and I mean the onlytime, the apostrophe is placed after the s is to show possession of any object or objects by more than one person. It’s used for plural possession, and only then.
  • Getting it Wrong
I touched on this problem briefly in a previous post, but it bears repeating because this is a mistake that I see literally every single day. It seems the apostrophe is a little too common and a little too useful, because a ton of writers from the casual to the professional want to shove it into the middle of words where it absolutely doesn’t belong. It certainly is a cunning little piece of punctuation, and I love using it as much as the next blogger, but there are times when you’re going to have to keep the apostrophe from crashing your party. Otherwise, everyone’s going to know you have no idea what you’re writing.
Again, and I cannot seem to stress this enough, apostrophes are coupled with the letter s only to show possession. I can have possession of this blog, the words I write, an idea, the pair of glasses I wear when I don’t have my contacts in my eyes, my fingernails. I can have possession of all these things because I am a person. Animals may also have possession — I might say my cat’s coat was shiny. The cat is mine, but I’m not in possession of the shiny coat of hair — my cat is, so that’s where the apostrophe goes.
But when I am pluralizing something, because there’s more than one of those things, I only need the letter s. For example, my cats have shiny coats. No apostrophe, because I’m already showing possession with the word have. If I eliminate that word, I’ll have to bring the apostrophe back to show the possession (otherwise, the reader won’t know who has the shiny coats): my cats’ shiny coats…. 
When you are simply pluralizing an object, you only need the letter s. Remember that, and don’t let a spare apostrophe show up and completely change the meaning of the sentence. By the same token, if you’re attempting to show possession and you don’t include an apostrophe, you’re muddying the reading waters in a different way. Proofread all your apostrophes, and make sure they’re only where they’re supposed to be, and nowhere they shouldn’t.

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog on 15th June 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.

Guest Post…What, Exactly, is a Dystopian Book?

It has come to my attention, during my various adventures in writer and reader forums around the Internet, that lots people — even some authors — don’t actually know what a dystopian society is. It’s not really a big deal…until you start incorrectly marketing your work as something it’s not. It’s true that a lot of readers might not know the difference, but plenty of them will. The readers aren’t the ones who are going to look bad for not understanding the genre…you are. It’s time to find out just exactly what makes a dystopian book dystopian. Don’t assume you already know; you might be one of the people who made me sigh recently with a forum post.

Dystopian Society

 If you want to get technical about it, calling something “dystopian” isn’t altogether accurate anyway. More properly it ought to be referred to as a dystopian society, and that’s the first piece of really important information you need to know. Dystopian books and stories of all kinds are deeply rooted in the society itself; often, authors will present the readers with a world view of this society through the eyes of a main protagonist.
 What’s characteristic of a dystopian society? For starters, the people who live within it are being oppressed and usually wholly controlled by some sort of all-powerful government or collective. Control is the most important word here, and one of the defining characteristics of a dystopian society. In many cases, there are at least two distinct classes present in such stories: the people who are being controlled, and those who are doing the controlling. This type of society is also called anti-utopian, and the word itself is derived from the Greek word for “bad.”



Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic Societies

It seems to me, after wading through all the confused readers and writers on the forums (which shall not be named), that the big stumbling block in all this is post-apocalyptic societies. People who don’t fully understand the idea of a dystopian society seem to think that dystopian societies are identical to post-apocalyptic societies, that in fact the two go hand-in-hand. This is patently incorrect.
A post-apocalyptic society isn’t necessarily dystopian. In this type of society, some horrible event has occurred which has fundamentally changed the world on a global scale. Nuclear war, catastrophic weather events, alien invasion — take your pick. Often, a new society rises in this new world in place of the old society…but there’s no reason to presuppose that this new society is dystopian simply because the Apocalypse has occurred.

The Necessary Separation

I’m going to go ahead and blame lots of the current confusion on The Hunger Games, though let me add that I have nothing against Suzanne Collins or her work or her fans or anything else that has to do with her books. In The Hunger Games, a society which is both dystopian and post-apocalyptic is the setting for the events which take place. However, readers and writers should not take this to mean that all post-apocalyptic societies are dystopian, or vice versa.
I recently saw a list of “favorite dystopian movies” which included such films as Waterworld. This is not a correct classification of this film, based on my somewhat hazy memory and cursory research. As I understand it, the “bad guys” in this film are pirates…and not government officials. People are not being controlled. They’re just trying to figure out life on the water. Also on the list: The PostmanThe Book of Eli and Repo! The Genetic Opera. Two of these films are post-apocalyptic, and there is little to no mention of the government in them. One of these films is dystopian, but not post-apocalyptic.
Your Role as an Author
What do you look for if you want to know the difference? Control.Catastrophe marks post-apocalyptic stories; control marks dystopian stories. Knowing the difference is important if you’re going to write a story that’s one, the other, or both. If I go shopping for some all-hell-has-broken-loose post-apocalyptic fare and find a bunch of dystopian stories instead, I’m not just going to hate you as the writer who got it wrong.
I might hate all indies, because I might think that none of them have any idea what they’re talking about. So don’t be that guy. Know your business, know your genre, know your categories. Know what the heck you’re writing, and how to identify it. If you don’t identify it properly, you’re not going to like the way you get identified as an author hack. Never forget that the title author is absolutely necessary for the word authoritative. That is not a mistake.

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog on 4th June 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are both available now! Read our review of Justice here.