By: Stephanie Braxton
Stories usually begin with an idea for a place, an event, or a character. Characters are the driving force of a story and they aren’t always human, or even sentient. It’s arguable that the wallpaper in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was a character, the way it twisted in the main character’s mind and slowly drove her mad. At the end, you’re left wondering if it truly was all in her head, or if it was real.
Places can be characters, molding and changing the environment in which your story takes place. A good example of this that most of us will recognize is Mayberry, the place where Andy Griffith took place. Especially in North Carolina where the memory of that show is alive and well, when you say Mayberry, everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. That idyllic little town where the sheriff knows no stranger, and the town drunk puts himself behind bars because he’s so friendly with the law. It’s become a cultural icon, nostalgia for simpler days.
Things happen to your characters and your characters can make things happen within the world of your story. Some of the most fun you can have as a writer is arguing with your characters, the imaginary friends that are always on your mind. They won’t always do what you want them to do, and you may spend many agonizing hours at the keyboard trying to figure out how to get them out of their own mess. As long as you feel something for your characters, you stand a good chance that someone else will too.
One of the most remarkable author/character relationships that I’ve seen is with J. R. Ward and one of her vampire warriors from the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Vishous. Yes, that is the correct spelling of his name.
Ward came out in her Insider’s Guide and confessed to readers that she and Vishous do not get along. In her words, “I don’t like him, and he doesn’t like me.” What’s even more interesting is when she added that she finds it grating to be in his point of view, and in this reader’s opinion, his book was one of the most emotionally punching ones in the series. I’m not much of a cryer, but Vishous got me going.
What can other writers take from J. R. Ward and Vishous? That you don’t have to like every character you write, but sometimes that can make the story better if you run with your gut and write the story you envision. Sometimes characters take on a will of their own and when that life is breathed into them, it is magic.
by: Lynn Chandler Willis
Warning: If you're Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, or any other multi-mega star writer, you can stop reading now. This probably doesn't apply to you. This is for the wanna be writer and the writer with one or even a few books under their belt. Maybe even several books.
Since self publishing (aka indie publishing) became the force to be reckoned with that it is, the masses began offering advice on how to make it work for you, you rogue writer. The problem is, there's so much advice, how is one to know what works and what doesn't? I don't think I'm alone in saying it and I hate to admit it, but I've started scanning over all the "how to" advice with the same amount of interest as I do for magic weight loss ads. Make a million self publishing your own books now warrants the same amount of interest as my free credit report or mail order Viagra.
And that's sad because there might actually be some gems of advice in one of the "how to" articles/books/blogs/take your pick.
One of the biggest advice generators for new writers is the use of social media; Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Linked In, and the list goes on and on...I've even seen infographs on what to post when on which avenue. Never post to Twitter on a Friday night. Promote yourself on Twitter between 1pm and 4pm. Never post to Facebook on Monday. Don't have a dedicated Facebook page for each book. Have a dedicated Facebook page for each book. And then there's Pinterest. Image driven so make sure you post pictures - but don't post pictures of how you envision your characters. Readers like to create their own mental image. Sigh.
My advice: Relax. Just like with good story-telling, apply the five w's.
Who are you trying to reach: Other writers or readers? It's okay if you say both.
What are you marketing? Yourself? A new book? An old book? If you're like most writers, your books are who you are so if you market yourself, you're going to naturally be marketing your work.
Where are you doing this marketing? Wherever you're most comfortable. If you're more comfortable on Facebook than Twitter, devote more time to Facebook.
When should you market? Always. Everyday. Remember your words are a part of your own being so it shouldn't be painful to discuss with anyone. Find what works for you and do it again and again. But be a presence, not an annoyance.
Why do it? Only you can answer that. Remember why you started writing in the first place? It probably had something to do with the joy of it. If that joy has been replaced with dread, aggravation, and yes, confusion, it's time to take a step back.
And of course, there's that H that totally screws up the five w's...the How.
How do you do it? 1) Accept there is no magic formula. What works for you may not work for someone else. 2) Find a few trusted sources and study how they do it. 3) Relax and enjoy the ride. How many other jobs let you work in your pajamas?
Look for the next blog post April 30!
I have an issue. I tend to believe all writers feel the same way about writing as I do. I love writing. It trumps just about everything else in my life, with only family beating it out, and let me tell you writing is a very close second. I'm fortunate enough that my family has always understood my head remains in a different place. They know that I am perpetually by the edge of reality, my arms outstretched and my chest open, the words and stories inside spilling out into the world. Problem is, I think everyone should be that way.
But then I think, am I really as serious as I think I am?
True, I love writing. I am passionate about words and how to use them to build something; a character, a scenario, a world. But I don't write every day. I haven't written more than 550 words to my latest novel in over a month! I've written a short story in that time, and I pull out my “scratching post” story almost daily just to keep my skills sharp, but as far as a serious writing stint... well, I have been lacking.
Does that make me less serious about writing? Some writers would say yes. You've read their interviews or “how to write” books, I'm sure. Write every day. Treat it like a job. Read, read, read.
So what is serious when it comes to writing? And how do you get serious?
Serious, to me, is having a plan or goal and working to bring said goal to fruition. My plan has changed recently. No longer do I aspire to be signed by a big house and become an internationally best selling author. I mean, if it happens I won't be upset, but chances are that's just not in the cards for me. So my vision of where I will go morphs into something a bit more attainable, something I can reach and be okay with. I work to improve my writing, I learn from other writers, and (most importantly) I write. Now, am I likely to reach my new destination if I keep ignoring my WIP? No. But that's a different blog post. Perhaps we'll call that one “Fear of Success”.
The above tips from published authors are certainly worth paying attention to, but I think they should be tweaked a bit. Just like exercise, you can mold these suggestions to fit your life. All it takes is commitment. That, and drive. Are you ready to roll?
Writers have been deemed solitary for so long we have begun to believe it. Sure we write alone, but we won't get anywhere we want to be on our own. We need community. My 5 tips may not work for every writer, or any writer, but these are my stepping stones, my plot points on the way to the writing life I want to live.
Do you have suggestions for getting serious about writing? I'd love to hear them!
- Sayword B. Eller, President
Next month: Wading through the “how to”
2015 promised great things. As the year opened I believed the Randolph Writers had a great year ahead. I had a vice president who, I believed, would be an asset as a community liaison, we had events lined up to bring the writing of our members (and other writers of the county) to the community, and I still had the gusto (I thought) to make it all work.
And then reality hit.
My vice president became ill and was no longer able to continue on, and no one seemed at all interested in our events at the local coffee joint, the Coffee Xchange. By July I realized the community didn’t care that much about coming out on Friday nights to see a writer read from selected works. It may have been the look on the face of a teenage boy who made his friends stay long enough to hear the guest author read her first selection that finally made me see the truth. He was both intrigued and longing to get away, while I was both mortified and deeply disappointed. It was at this moment I realized I was going after a lost cause, a dream that would never be made a reality. So I pondered what to do.
You see I know this blog post isn’t cool. It’s just not considered good form to call out a community for their lack of participation. It’s also considered in bad taste to call out your own members for not showing up, but let’s be honest; if you don’t even care what your group is doing why should anyone else?
When I agreed to take on this gig, I saw so much potential in this struggling little group that most people in Randolph County had never heard of. I didn’t listen to the warnings of the woman who’d done the same thing I was about to do for so long when she told me I would be on my own. The truth is, I didn’t believe her. In my naïve mind I thought she was merely disenchanted. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could call himself/herself a writer and not be entirely devoted to the craft? Sadly, through loss of membership and lackadaisical attendance I found every warning she’d delivered to be true. Turns out people do put things before their writing. Who knew!
But I’m not entirely on my own. Even without the support of the community as a whole, or high attendance (or membership) numbers, I have managed to begin to build a community. The Randolph Writers has a few very dedicated, and super fantastic, members that keep us afloat, and I have discovered what could be the answer to growing as a group and, selfishly, as an independent writer.
No, I don’t mean social media networking. Believe it or not, while you have the entire world at your fingertips, you are still quite limited in your reach. You have to stay local. Make friends with other authors. Go to author events; book signings, seminars, presentations, etc. Tuesday, January 19, 2016, I attended a presentation by author Angel Matthews being held at the Asheboro Library. I must admit, I was most interested because her book touches on the American Civil War and features a female character, albeit fictional, who fought alongside Gen. John S. Mosby. However, in going to her event I was able to, 1) support a local author, 2) open a dialogue with her, and 3) give her my business card in order to (hopefully) build a relationship with her as an author.
We’re all in this together.
You don’t sign a six-figure deal just because you write a book. I think only 1% - 3% of the writing population gets that lucky. If you’re among the lot of them I applaud you, but for most of us we’re stuck working a day job while forever making our way toward that big dream. Moderate success is all that awaits most of us, but we will only achieve that with the help of other writers (and, of course, readers).
Wendy Laura Belcher says, “Without community, writing is inconceivable.” She’s right. We can sit alone in our writing rooms or at the kitchen table with our laptops banging out story after story, but without human connection it is all for naught. Think of networking as building blocks. With each connection you make you stand to go higher.
So get up from your desk now and then, attend a writing event, or just go out with some of your writing pals. Meet new people! Go to a conference (if you can afford it) or join a “meetup”. You’d be surprised how many writing events go on around the Piedmont. As writers it is far too easy for us to stay indoors and block out the rest of the world. Facebook and Twitter will only get you so far, and with only 3%-10% of your followers and friends seeing your posts that distance is, sadly, measurable.
Get up, get out, and get to meeting people! You never know what the next handshake or laughter over a cocktail will bring.
Next month: Getting Serious About Your Writing
2015 came in like a lamb, but I (for one) certainly hope it wakes like a lion!
Last year the Randolph Writers experienced ups and downs; ups because our members began to see some very positive results from their writings, and downs because it turns out not all bedfellows are good fellows, but all-in-all it was a superlative year with quite a lot to appreciate.
Several members published one, or more, titles, while another won top honors with a big traditional publisher. We held a ceremony for those placing in the top six of our Short Fiction Contest, and welcomed some very cool new members to the group.
As life ebbs and flows so does membership, and we are down to a slim number of active members, but we move forward with hope that more authors in Randolph County, and beyond, will join us.
This year we will be implementing new programs as well as keeping members and friends in the know with a monthly newsletter. It is through the newsletter that we hope to inform local authors of upcoming writing contest deadlines, as well as keeping them informed on the happenings within the Randolph Writers.
New writers are always welcome to join, and we encourage it! As Wendy Laura Belcher says in her book, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, "without community, writing is inconceivable". In 2015 I am dedicated to making Randolph Writers a more active member of the writing community, especially with its members.
So here is to 2015, no matter what she might bring!
-Sayword B. Eller