Category Archives: Guest post

Guest Post: The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, from Joy of Museums

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Thank you to Joy of Museums for this commentary on the haunting Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse.

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“The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse portrays the ending of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1832 poem of the same name. The scene shows the plight of a young woman from Arthurian legend, who yearned with unrequited love for the knight Sir Lancelot but was isolated under a curse in a tower near King Arthur’s Camelot.

The Lady of Shalott was forbidden to look directly at the outside world. She was doomed to view the world through a mirror and weave what she saw into a tapestry. Her despair intensified when she saw loving couples in the far distance. One day she saw Sir Lancelot passing on his way in the reflection of her mirror, and she was overcome with desire and dared to look out at Camelot, bringing about the curse. The lady decided to face her destiny and escaped by boat, to sail to Camelot and her inevitable death.

Her frozen body was found afterwards by the knights and ladies of Camelot.

With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.”

“The Lady of Shalott” is one of Waterhouse’s most famous masterpieces, which features the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His artworks were notable for the depiction of women from ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.

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Guest Post: Crafting a Powerful Set-Up by Becca Puglisi

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Guest Post: Crafting a Powerful Set-Up by Becca Puglisi

Thank you to Becca Puglisi and to Writers in the Storm for these strategies for grabbing your readers in the first few pages. Puglisi is one of the founders of Writers Helping Writers and One Stop for Writers.

As authors, we all know the importance of engaging our audience within a book’s first few pages. It’s called grabbing the reader: captivating them in a way that makes them want to stick with the story to its end.

Michael Hauge prefers the term seducing:

“Everybody likes to be seduced; it’s a gradual, enjoyable, and emotionally involving experience that thoroughly captures our attention.” (Writing Screenplays That Sell)

Whatever your terminology, drawing in readers is a vitally important process that needs to happen at the beginning of your story. Also called the set-up, it’s everything that occurs before the all-important catalyst that propels your character out of his regular world into a new one. According to Blake Snyder (Save the Cat), the set-up should consist of roughly the first 12% of your story. This is a guideline that you can set in stone or take with a grain of salt, depending on your plotting/pantsing style. But 12% is a good rule of thumb because it’s enough real estate to set the stage and draw readers in without it dragging on and putting them to sleep.

Unfortunately, we can get the length of the set-up right and still not achieve the goal of pulling readers in. To do this, we have to tap into their emotions. If we don’t make them feel, they won’t be invested in the character; if they’re not invested in the character, they won’t care what happens to him and won’t keep reading to see if he succeeds. So it’s incredibly important that the set-up elicit emotion from the reader. There are a few things you can include in your opening pages that will help accomplish this.

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Character Empathy

Readers start reading a book for a variety of reasons: they liked the premise, it was a recommended by a friend, they’re a fan of the author. Readers keep reading because they connect with the characters. We have a very small window—that first 12%—to achieve the reader-character connection, and eliciting empathy is a great way to make it happen. Here are a few ways to encourage that special something between the reader and your protagonist.

  • Universal Needs. Readers like characters they can relate to in some way. One way to bond your audience of unique individuals to the protagonist is to remove one of her basic human needs, such as belonging or surviving. Because everyone understands these needs, taking one of them away from your hero can endear readers to her. This is one reason Katniss Everdeen was such a successful protagonist. Most readers couldn’t relate to her circumstances of having to kill others to survive, but they could understand needing to protect a vulnerable loved one or providing for one’s family. If you want to increase your reader’s empathy for the hero, try taking away a universal need, and the reader will stay tuned to see if she can get it back.
  • Admirability. People are drawn to those they admire, so it’s a good idea to give your hero some qualities that readers will appreciate or aspire to themselves. Intelligence, a sense of humor, kindness, generosity, honor—these are attributes people long for. Seeing them personified in the hero opens us up to them, making us want them to do well. Notice that I didn’t say a protagonist must be likable (though that works, too). As a selfish and manipulative character, Scarlett O’Hara isn’t exactly a glowing role model, but people relate to her because of her shrewdness, tenacity, and confidence. It’s her admirable qualities that win readers over.
  • Uniqueness. Readers, along with editors, agents, and publishers, are tired of seeing new versions of the same old characters. We want someone who surprises us with something new. A janitor who anonymously and effortlessly solves impossible math theorems at M.I.T. (Good Will Hunting). An art student in Prague who collects teeth for the demons who raised her (Daughter of Smoke and Bone). When you’re creating your protagonist, see what you can do to make him or her stand out from the crowd and be remembered.
  • Remarkability. Few people truly excel in any area, but most would like to. Characters who are remarkable in some way speak to our need for esteem and recognition, whether it’s because they’re intelligent, incredibly talented, or have an unusual ability. Make your character extraordinary and readers will often respond.

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Guest Post: How Writers are Actually Actors by Ryan Lanz

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Thank you to Ryan Lanz and to A Writer’s Path for this wonderful article about writing characters.

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“As a writer, I am just an actor in a play, telling a story that needs to be told.”       ~Rita Webb

I hate memorizing lines.

In my teens, I had a brush with the acting bug. I enjoyed the thrill of being on stage. The thunder of the applause was intoxicating. I lived in southern California at the time, and I briefly considered having a go at acting. The main problem: I hated memorizing lines.

Come to find out, the acting world is far less glamorous than it seems. Actors frequently have to be early risers, especially if the character has to wear heavy make-up. The hobbit characters from the Lord of the Rings movies, for example, often had to be at the cosmetics trailer at 4am to begin putting on their feet extensions. Ugh.

I abandoned the notion and really didn’t revisit the thought until recently. Years ago, I read an interview with Harriet McDougal Rigney (widow of James Rigney, author of the iconic The Wheel of Time Series) where she mentioned that whenever he wrote from the viewpoint of the villain Padan Fain, his mood was different, almost reflective of the character himself. One day he came into the kitchen, and she said, “You’ve been writing Padan again today, haven’t you?” It turned out he had. It was then I realized that writers become a part of that character when they write them, to one degree or another.

I’m sure we’ve all watched interviews of actors who virtually became that character for a time. One example of this dedication that comes to mind is Heath Ledger as the Joker. Heath gave an unbelievable amount of effort into becoming that role. He prepared for it by reading every relevant comic book, reading the Joker’s lines, closing his eyes, and meditating on them. He reclused himself away in his hotel room for weeks and wrote a diary of his findings, experimenting with voices. I think few people could match that level of character dedication.

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Guest Post: Top 10 Success Tips from Neil Gaiman by Jenny Hanson

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Guest Post: Top 10 Success Tips from Neil Gaiman by Jenny Hanson

Thank you to Jenny Hanson and Writers in the Storm for these wonderful tips from the incomparable Neil Gaiman.

Over the last few months, I’ve shared “Top 10” lists from J.K. Rowling and Stephen King on the topics of writing and success. This month I chose Neil Gaiman, because he has so much compassion and practical wisdom to share about writing.

The amazing thing to me in compiling these lists is that all three writers offer different advice. The same way three creatives will take a single photograph and create three different worlds, these writers define words like “perseverance” in different ways. It fascinates me.

Here is Gaiman’s “Top Ten” list for writing success:Neil Gaiman

1. Make good art.

The world needs us to do what we do. They need us to create stories that resonate, that take them outside of themselves. If you have the ability to create, take the time to do it well. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the magic of creativity in Big Magic.

While the fate of the world does not rest upon art, art can reflect the state of the world and it’s fate. It’s a mirror into society’s soul and a great use of your time. Never doubt it.

As Gaiman says, “Do what only you can do, and do your best: Make. Good. Art.

2. Do what you care about.

We spend months and years writing our books. That’s a lot of time to spend with characters and ideas. If you don’t care about your story, what is the point? If you don’t care about your characters, why should your reader?

3. Do new things.

Study after study says the key to creativity is play. If you’ve ever watched children play with each other’s toys, you will see that they love learning how to use their tried and true whatever-toy-it-is in a new way, based on the improvisation of their friends. They have rules and they trust in them. We need trust, both to play and be creative. Exploration, building and thinking with your hands, and role-play where acting it out lets you really get inside it.

Nurture this on the page, and in your critique groups. Look at your old story in a new way. Take a writing class. I just took a Donald Maass class through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association that knocked my socks off – just taking the class made me look at my work in a different way.

4. Ignore the rules.

Gaiman isn’t talking about ignoring a rule “just because.” We’re not tweens, we’re creatives. If a rule kills your writing mojo, it’s okay to ignore it to bring your art into being. His argument: If you know the rules of what is possible, that is what you will do. Often that is ALL you will do. If you don’t know the rules, you will have no idea that you can’t do something. That soul-killing word shouldn’t won’t rear it’s ugly head. You will try. And often you will fly.

Entertainment tip: Anne R. Allen wrote a great post on “secret writing rules” and why we can ignore them.

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5. You are unique.

Your favorite authors have let their inner writing freaks fly free. You can hear their distinctive voices in every book they write. Have you every picked up a Darynda Jones book? Ditto with Christopher Moore and Janet Evanovich?

My friend Natalie Hartford‘s first tagline was, “Be yourself…everyone else is taken.” That is never more true than when you are writing. No one else will tell a story like you, and the people who love your voice will follow you through just about any story you write.

When you allow your uniqueness to shine, your writing will too.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Guest Post–Writer: Are You A Plotter or Pantser? Take This Quiz Now! by Writer’s Relief

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This article has been reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.

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There is no right or wrong way to write a novel. But there are two main writing strategies authors often use when writing a book—and they both have funny names. Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”? Not sure? Writer’s Relief offers you the definition of each, along with a quick quiz you can take now to help you decide which writing style works best for you.

Are You A Plotter?

Plotters outline their stories before writing them. (More on how to outline here.) They know all the details—characters, plot, subplots, climax, and resolution—before they write a single word. This prewriting strategy means more work up front, but less chance of developing writer’s block during the process, because plotters know exactly where they’re going. They have a handy map to lead them to their destination and keep them on course. Plotters tend to write more efficiently and finish novels more quickly than pantsers.

But before you decide that this is the way to go, hold on: There are some cons to being a plotter. For instance, if a plotter wants to change the outline, this generally involves changes to other chapters. Reconfiguring an outline is often more daunting than creating one from scratch, as each chapter may be affected by a change that happens in one. Also, because less creativity is involved in the writing process, it can start to feel more like a chore and become mundane. Let’s face it, planning every detail of anything—whether it’s a vacation or a novel—doesn’t leave much room for misadventure or happy accidents.

John Grisham and J.K. Rowling are plotters. Grisham feels that the more time he spends on an outline, the easier the book is to write. Rowling confesses that she uses a basic plot outline but fills in along the way, which sounds a lot like a “plantser,” the hybrid love child of a plotter and a pantser. Check out one of Rowling’s detailed spreadsheets here. It should come as no surprise that it is handwritten, since it’s rumored that she has used napkins, an airplane sick bag, and once even a dress to write the Harry Potter series.

Other plotters include R.L. Stine, Dan Brown, and the fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.

Are You A Pantser?

Pantsers are considered the free-spirited artists of the writing world because they tend to fly by the seat of their pants when crafting a story (hence the moniker “pants-er”). They let their characters establish themselves and allow the plot to unfold on its own. It’s less work up front, but more during the actual writing process. And though pantsers may have a vague idea about direction, they’re not interested in following a map. As a result, any twists and turns in the story feel more natural because they were not planned.

Sounds way more creative, fun, and adventurous, right? Who wouldn’t want to be a pantser? Well, creative freedom doesn’t come without a cost: Pantsers are more likely to fall victim to writer’s block. (Check out these 3-word prompts to break through writer’s block.) When they get stuck, some pantsers simply move on to another project, leaving behind an unfinished story or novel. They tend to have a computer full of works in progress. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t—or can’t become—successful writers.

Stephen King is a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of writer. That’s right, he’s a pantser! In his book On Writing, he argues that he can tell which books have been outlined because they feel somewhat stale.

Margaret Atwood is also a pantser and compares creating a story using the structure of an outline to paint-by-numbers.

And this may be a little surprising, but George R.R. Martin is another pantser.

A Plotter, A Pantser, Or Somewhere In Between? Take This Quiz And Find Out!

True or False:

  1. When planning a trip, I always make sure to have a tour guide.
  2. On the shelves of my personal library, the books are methodically organized.
  3. I always make a grocery list before shopping.
  4. I panic when I get lost.
  5. When going out to eat at a specific restaurant, I research the menu online beforehand.
  6. My sock drawer is categorized by color.
  7. I have my clothes for work laid out and ready to go the night before.
  8. I MapQuest everything including my trips out to the backyard shed.
  9. The sheets in my linen closet (even the fitted ones) look like they have been meticulously folded by Martha Stewart.
  10. The inside of my car is free of clothing, books, sports gear, fast-food wrappers, crushed soda cans, and empty Starbucks coffee cups.

If you answered TRUE to 6 or more questions, you are a born plotter.

If you answered TRUE to 4 or fewer, it looks like you may be a pantser.

Have exactly 5 TRUES? Guess what? You are a little of both—also known as a plantser. This method is widely used by many writers who understand the advantages of plotting out a novel while also giving the characters free will.

Guest Post: Young Mother in the Grotto by Rodin from Joy of Museums

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Thank you to Joy of Museums for this photograph and commentary about Young Mother in the Grotto by Rodin.

Auguste Rodin modelled young “Mother in the Grotto” in 1885, and the plaster sculpture was exhibited under the title “Woman and Love”. Several versions in bronze and marble were made during Rodin’s lifetime. The woman and child theme was evident in Rodin’s early body of work during the mid-1880s.

This sculpture represents maternal love in a mythological theme; the baby and the young woman was both sentimental and spiritual. In the later periods of his career, the subject of maternal love is much less prevalent in Rodin’s work as compared to the theme of love between man and woman.

Young Mother in the Grotto by Rodin

The woman, crouching in a grotto and shielding her child from the elements, embodies maternal love and protection. The contrasting textures of the smooth figures against the rough grotto walls highlight the way that human forms can magically emerge from the stone, during the masters’ sculpturing process, as Rodin learnt from studying Michelangelo’s work.

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Guest Post: How To Put Together Your Writer’s Resumé For Submissions by Lucy V Hay

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Thank you to Lucy V Hay for this wonderful article, which was first published on Bang2Write.

What should you put in your writer resumé?

So, over in the Bang2writers FB group, Gail asks: “How do you put together a writer’s resumé? What should go in, what should be left out, what counts as relevant experience?” This is a great question I get all the time, so warrants a lengthier post.

First up, the usual disclaimer: this post is based on my experience of writing my own resumé and reading other people’s ONLY. There is no *set* way of doing it. However I’ve seen some very good CVs and I’ve seen some very pants ones, so I think I can offer some help here, however small, especially for those who are having issues knowing where to start. So, without further ado, my thoughts …

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What Should It LOOK Like?

We often hear presentation is everything in this biz, which is why CVs sometimes look surprisingly BAD on this front. Supposedly “eye-catching” fonts and colors are the biggest no-nos; jazzy layouts, extra space and justified text can also cause issues. I don’t recommend putting your photo on them either, even if you are hot – you’re not an actor. I recommend the following:

– A sans serif font (Minus that “squiggly” bit, ie. Arial)

– 12 pt size

– Black type on a white page

– One to two pages MAXIMUM

Of course, there is room for personal preference too. I like to put my name and jobs (“Script Editor and Novelist” at the top in larger type, putting my address, website and contact details in a little box on the right hand side. I then separate each “section” with a line. Basically, lay it out HOWEVER YOU WANT as long as it is a) simple and b) does not affect “readability”.

So that’s the dull stuff out the way. So what else could go on your writer’s CV?

What Should You Put In A Writer’s CV?

1) About you

A short intro about you is nearly always MISSING on CVs I see and I think it’s a real shame, since this is a GREAT opportunity to really sell yourself off the page to whomever’s reading. Give them an insight into WHO YOU ARE. Mine reads “Straight-talking, web savvy Script Editor with an eye for structure” as a sub heading and underneath there is a short paragraph about my various interests, such as challenging gender stereotypes, social media and event organizing.

I prefer to write in the third person because I’m BRITISH and saying it in the first feels like BOASTING to me, but if you’re more sensible and don’t have the same hang-up, either is fine. (NOTE: this bit should always be first in my opinion, though the rest on this list could be any order I think, as long as it reads well/is logical).

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