Category Archives: Writing

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.

elements of fiction

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

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.

Monday Morning Wisdom #224

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Monday Morning Wisdom #224

MMWIf you want to change the world, pick up your pen. ~ Martin Luther

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.

Elements of Fiction

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elements of fiction

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

If you are writing a story, you must consider how you will handle these seven elements:

Plot—is what happens. It is the action that starts in the beginning, continues through the middle, and wraps up at the end. Action adventure novels and thrillers are often plot-driven, as are some mysteries.

Setting—is where and when the story happens. The story is profoundly affected by the setting. A story that happens in a suburban town in the present will be very different from a story set in the past on a distant planet.

Character—is who the story is about. The people doing the doing. You need at least one. Most novels have an extensive cast of characters. You have a protagonist, and antagonist, the people who support each, and some random individuals. In order for the characters to be believable, they must each need something, and usually what one needs is at odds with what another needs. Each character’s back story (his life before the beginning of the book) must be considered, even if it isn’t shared with the reader. Each person is the way she is because of something that happened in her past. Many, many novels are character-driven. In my opinion, characters are the most important element of fiction.

elements of fiction

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

Point of view—is the perspective of the person narrating the story or scene. It’s okay to have multiple narrators, but make sure it’s always clear to the reader whose head he’s in at any given time. Generally, it is confusing to change POV within a single scene.

Point of view can be first person, second person, or third person.

First person is when the story is being told by a character, either the protagonist, the antagonist, or a secondary character, using his own words and voice, using the pronouns I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, and ours.

Second person is when the story is being told about and to a person: you did this, you said that. The second person is rarely used in fiction, because it is hard to pull off for a long period of time, but I have seen it successfully used in a memoir that a parent wrote for his child, specifically about the child’s childhood.

Third person can be the viewpoint of a person removed from the story, the invisible author. Pronouns used would be he, she, him, her, they, their, etc. The third person narrator could be omniscient, all-knowing, like God. God knows everyone’s deepest thoughts, and the omniscient narrator does, too, and shares them with the reader. This is the way classical literature was written.

However, contemporary fiction favors an objective third person view point, where the narrator tells only what is observable. That means the writer is very limited about how thoughts are shared. Generally, if a character is alone, we can hear her thoughts. In other scenes, a viewpoint character can be selected, and the story is told through what he can observe, and possibly also through his thoughts. But again, it must be clear to the reader whose head he’s inside. And also, if the reader wonders how a character knows something based on what should be observable to him, the reader will disconnect from the story.

elements of fiction

Conflict—there is no story without conflict. There are two types of conflict, external and internal. An external conflict involves a problem which exits outside of the character, such as a problem with another character or an institution, or a dangerous situation, like wartime or an avalanche. An internal conflict is a problem or need within the character, such as an addiction, or wanting the object of her desire to notice her. In good full-length fiction, the main character, the antagonist, and some of the supporting characters all experience external and internal conflict. In short fiction, there might only be one conflict.

Theme—is a universal truth that your story illustrates. The theme can be as trite as Believe in yourself or Love makes the world go round, or it can be something the writer is passionate about. You don’t have to beat your theme into the reader, but every chapter should reflect the theme, even subversively, in order to have continuity. If you do not chose a theme for your story, or the story does not adhere to a theme, the reader will sense something is missing and try to find her own theme in it. Do not allow your story to be pointless; your reader will be disappointed.

Symbol—is an item that stands for something else. A ring that stands for power; an heirloom teacup that represents love of family. It’s hard not to include a symbol in fiction. If you don’t consciously put one in, your readers will unconsciously find one. (When I wrote worship drama for my church, my ministry partner was constantly finding symbols in my skits that I hadn’t purposely put in.) So you might as well choose a symbol that relates to your theme, and be sure to refer to it several times in the story.

elements of fiction

Depending on your story, certain elements may fall into place easily, while others may challenge you and send you to the library or a writer’s workshop for help. However, to write successful fiction, you must give consideration to them all.

An Interview with Author Victoria Thompson

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An Interview with Author Victoria Thompson

Victoria Thompson is the popular author of twenty-two romance novels, the historical Gaslight Mystery series (twenty-two books and counting), and the Counterfeit Lady novels (Book 3 coming out soon).

I have to brag that I’ve know Vicki since 1982. When my second child was born, she was my La Leche League leader. Soon afterward, she started a Bible study group for young mothers, and she was instrumental in leading me back to the Lord.

She was also the first person I’d ever known to actually have a book published.

Vicki graciously agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

What was your undergraduate major?

VT: English/Secondary Education; I like to say I’m a retired teacher—I taught one year and retired!  This was in a public Middle School in 1970.

You teach writing popular fiction in the Masters program at Seton Hill University. How did that come about?

VT: I was invited to teach in the program when it was just getting started in 2000.  A writer friend recommended me.

I’ve heard your books characterized as “cozy” mysteries. What constitutes a cozy?

VT: A “cozy” or traditional mystery is defined as a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. That doesn’t mean a small town, necessarily, although many traditional mysteries are set in small towns.  It just means the group of suspects are members of a small social community, i.e. friends, family members, members of a church or club, etc.

Murder on Pleasant Avenue

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

VT: Yes. My process is actually somewhere in the middle. I come up with my victim and the cast of suspects before I start writing, but I have no idea who the killer is or what exactly will happen, so I just wing it from there.

Why historical fiction?

VT: I love history and I love exploring how human nature has not really changed ever. The technology is different, but people are not. They are still concerned about the same things now as they were a hundred years ago. I have tried writing contemporary novels, but they just never quite click, for some reason. I think I just have a naturally historical voice and sensibility.

How do you do your research?

VT: I have three sets of bookshelves full of reference books in my office that I consult, but it’s also very easy to use Google for things as well. I don’t even have to get out of my chair! Google will often lead me to a specific reference book and if it’s not available any other way, I’ll get it from the library or inter-library loan.

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How long does it take you to write a book?

VT: Around 6 months, including research and “thinking.”

What is the most fun part of writing a book?

VT: Getting to that point in the book where you realize you’ve got all the clues in place, you know who the killer is and why they did it and all you have to do is write it up so others can read it. For me, this usually happens around 2/3-3/4 of the way through the manuscript.

Who is your agent, and how did you connect?

VT: My agent is Nancy Yost. We have been together about 25 years (neither of us remembers exactly when she took me on).  She was originally my editor for two books I wrote for Avon.  I had just hired a new agent when she told me she was leaving Avon to become an agent.  Two years later, I fired that agent and went with Nancy.

Victoria Thompson photo

Victoria Thompson

What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

VT: I have very little control over the cover art (I do get to approve it or suggest changes), and no control at all over when or how often the books are published and how much they cost. Also, I’d love to write 12 books a year, to keep my fans happy, but that’s physically impossible.

 

Creative Juice #153

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Creative Juice #153

Twelve articles to inspire you.

In the Meme Time: Habits for Artists

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Habits for Writers