Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I hope many of you are finishing up NanoWriMo with successful results. I know it's a tough slog but it can teach us something about persistence. Of course, there are other ways to learn about persistence, too. IMHO, persistence is one of the most important qualities for an author. We have to keep going, keep writing, to finish our stories and novels. Then, we have to keep editing and revising. When we finally finish our WIP, we have to send out submission after submission, query after query. Even after achieving some success, we have to keep writing, keep trying. It goes on an on.

Personally, I had some near misses this year with editors and agents. They're almost worse than outright rejections, because you do get your hopes up--and then dashed. Ugh.
So, as I force myself to keep trying, to be persistent, I hope I can encourage you to do the same. Good luck, keep writing, and keep the faith!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Story Endings

I get the chance to read a lot of short fiction, both published and un-published. The most crucial part of a story is the ending. It's the payoff. Readers read until the end to get this payoff. What happens if your story doesn't have this payoff? I'll tell you: trouble. Readers are not satisfied and editors are not buying. Please make sure your story has a payoff. I concede for every rule there's an exception. A few authors make a good living not including endings (Kelly Link comes to mind).
Here are some tips for satisfying story payoffs:
  • allude to, and resolve--one way or another--the story's major conflict. Notice this means your story must have a major conflict. Actually, this also means your protagonist must have a goal and motivation (and the reader needs to know these). The conflict is what stops him/her from achieving this goal.
  • are a consequence of the protagonist's actions. Notice this means your protagonist must act. Note, too, the protag can succeed or fail, but it must be because of what he/she does.
  • are integrated with the story elements. All the parts of the story should be intertwined, should mesh together. Even surprise endings should utilize story elements--they're a surprise because they alter our perception of existing elements.
  • evoke an emotional reaction in the reader. I admit this is tricky. The idea here is readers become the characters when reading fiction. Authors want the reader to empathize with the characters, to feel what they feel, and to understand them.
  • speaks to the beginning. I like to look at my first page and my last page, and make sure they have some theme, phrase, or other element in common. Some people call this circularity. Some people call it bookending. This works great with novels, too.
  • Your tip here. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: The Signal

I recently had the opportunity to read The Signal by Rebecca S.W. Bates, a short speculative fiction novel published in 2012. The blurb says,
A warning signal or an offer of peace?

The signal arrives from deepest space. Landon Walker--Earth's radical expert in communication--refuses to believe it's a warning. Called back to headquarters in Brazil, he reluctantly teams up with other top scientists to decode the message.

At the same time, shamans in primitive societies around the world seem to know what the signal means. But they are all dying for their effort. Decoding the signal may lead Landon to the same fate.

Then the signal targets Landon's baby daughter, and suddenly its message becomes crystal clear. He must act to save her--and all of Earth

This was a rip-roaring adventure in the classic science fiction style. There are space ships and a mysterious signal, neat tech, colorful characters, disasters, and even possibly...aliens.

The future world Bates creates is familiar and yet very different from our present, with a myriad of environmental and cultural changes. What differentiates this story from classic science fiction, however, is the inclusion of Brazilian culture and mythology. Bates clearly has a good understanding of what, to many Americans, is an exotic culture in itself, Brazil. In addition, one of the pivotal characters is the daughter/niece of two of the main characters--which is also unusual.

While the main plot lines of the book are resolved, I suspect most reader will be left asking for more. Luckily, this is the first book of a trilogy, so readers will get more. I can't wait!

Get more info about the book, including the free first chapter, at the publisher's website: DM Kreg Publishing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

literary tension

Some of my writer friends and I have been discussing literary tension. What the heck is this, anyway? Recall, in general, tension is mental, emotional, or nervous strain. I think the thing to keep in mind, however, is we want to evoke tension in the reader. Tension is the mechanism we employ to make the reader want to keep reading. We want the reader to wonder, "What happens next?"

Often in critique groups, it seems like tension gets a bit mixed up with conflict. Literary conflict is something different. Conflict is when something or someone stops a character in a story from reaching his/her goal; it can be an external or internal obstacle. The reader has to know what the goal is for this to work. I would say tension, then, is a result of conflict. The reader wonders, "Will the character overcome this conflict?"

How, then, do writers create tension? In a nutshell, the author has to evoke questions for the reader and not answer them right away.
how-to-evoke-tension suggestions from around cyberspace include utilizing:

  • a mystery or puzzle--The classic here is, of course, a dead body or other committed crime that must be solved. But an author could also have a secret, a magic ring, locked treasure chest, etc. that the reader wants to find the answer to.
  • a solution--The author tells the reader the end of the story and the reader wants to find out how the story gets there. A lot of thrillers utilize this, e.g. bad guys are going to blow up the world unless... Come to think of it, romances use this method as well: the reader knows the boy and girl (or whatever) will get together at the end, but how does it happen?
  • Related to the solution is the author actually telling the reader things. I see this a lot in the beginning of (successful!) books. Recall my Begin with telling post.
  • present hints and possibilities--Savvy readers know when an author spends time on a character or object it's important, e.g. gun on the mantle, suspicious janitor, etc. Readers wonder, "What's up with that? What's up with him?" This method could also encompass multiple plot lines or protagonists. Readers want to know how they all fit together. Plus, as an added bonus, when you change point-of-view it evokes tension in the reader: "Wait. What happens next with this first guy?"
  • knowledgable reader--Here, the reader knows more than the characters, often because of multiple points-of-view. The reader gets to see them all, but the characters do not. "Oh, no! That guy she's dating is the guy that killed her sister. " :) Horror stories often utilize this. Readers know the character should not go into the basement. Alone. At night. Bare foot. In her negligee. With a killer on the loose. In the house...
What do you think? What's a good way to evoke tension?