Diversity

Something everybody seems to be talking about these days is diversity and I think that’s great. Diversity is about inclusion. We include diverse characters, not because the agents you want to query are asking for it, but because our communities are made up of all kinds of people that want to be represented in the media they consume. It’s not about a catch word, it’s about acceptance. So what are some things to keep in mind when dealing with diversity? Let’s take a look.

  • Diverse people can’t be reduced to a single trait. Nor do they represent everyone who shares that trait. Don’t tokenize people or resort to hurtful and limiting stereotypes. Diverse characters are more than just their skin color, orientation, or disability.
  • Write them as human first. Human with their own distinct personality. We are all people and can relate to each other through our humanity. Make your character three-dimensional and fully fleshed out. They should have story goals and flaws to make them relatable and real.
  • Research is key to getting this right. You want to accurately portray your diverse character’s story. Talk to people from that culture. Read interviews and articles online. You would do research to accurately describe an archer loosing an arrow or using medieval weapons, so do your due diligence here.
  • Don’t include diversity just to fill a quota. You want them to be fully realized characters that serve a purpose in your narrative. Don’t write a POC just to kill them off first.
  • Respond to criticism with grace. You’ll never be able to satisfy everyone, but listen to critiques and revise accordingly. If someone is giving you feedback, recognize that as a gift. Someone is giving you a glimpse into their story. Don’t get angry, it’s not a personal attack against you. Respond with grace and try to understand where they are coming from.
  • Similarly, get beta readers from the community you’re trying to represent. Listen to their insights. Make sure your story is as strong and well represented as it can be.

Diversity makes our stories stronger and more realistic. This world is wide and includes all sorts of humans. Don’t limit yourself or your characters. What are your best tips for writing diversity? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Building Your Platform

This week we’ll talk about another topic from the writer’s conference I went to. Chuck Sambuchino of former Writer’s Digest fame talked to us about platforms.

  • What is platform? It’s your visibility in the market. Your influence and reach. The channels through which you speak, like a Facebook page, Twitter, or blog.
  • Elements of platform. It’s important to keep in mind that one successful thing is better than a bunch of small attempts. If your Facebook page is really working for you, continue with that rather than start ten attempts to build your platform that have little visibility. Elements include a website or blog of impressive size, an e-newsletter/mailing list of impressive size, article or column writing, guest contributions to successful websites or blogs, a track record of strong book sales, individuals of influence you know, public speaking appearances, an impressive social media presence, membership to an organization, recurring media appearances (TV, radio, online), and free books.
  • When is platform necessary? For nonfiction, always. You need to have a strong platform and social media presence to prove you have an audience for the book you are proposing. For memoir the answer is sometimes. You see more celebrity memoirs because they already have the people interested in hearing their stories. For fiction, platform is not necessary, but an added bonus. You don’t need a platform to get an agent or publisher when you’re writing fiction, but a bigger platform means more money and sales, so it’s a good thing to work on before you get published. And it can be a good bonus when you have an impressive platform when you’re looking for an agent. But your fiction should come first. Work on your platform on those days you just can’t write. And it’s all about the slow growth. Keep at it and keep your numbers growing. Self-published books, it’s important to translate into sales.
  • Important principles. It is in giving that we receive. You make content for others, not yourself. The more difficult the content is to produce, the more valuable it is. Create the content others would look for. Also, you don’t have to go it alone. If there is a successful blog, ask to create a guest post for it. If there’s a successful website, ask to become a contributor. If you want to start a blog, start it with several others and create content together. It’s less work for you but gets your name out there. Learn from what works. If someone is doing something that works, copy it. Start small and start early. Don’t wait until right when you want to publish. You should start building your platform yesterday. Have a plan, but analyze and evolve. Don’t doggedly stick to a plan that isn’t working. Always keep adapting. Direct people to your blog using social media. Incentivize people to click through. Use SEO effectively, be specific in your titles. Be open, likeable, and relatable. You’ll find your audience if you are. Be yourself. Be known as an authority for your chosen topic. Have a focus.
  • Don’t write a blog about your personal writing journey. There’s hundreds of them online, even more abandoned ones. And why would a stranger be interested in your journey when you aren’t published or know the only way to be published (there are many paths). Is your life really that interesting that hundreds or thousands of strangers will want to read your blog? Write about a topic related to your book or what you are most interested in. You start a blog to last, so you need something you’ll be able to write about for years and years to come and still be engaged in the topic. Be an authority in the topic you chose and make it interesting.

These are some tips for how to build and grow your platform. Get started with it as soon as possible and constantly evolve. What are your best tips for platforms? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and writing inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

On Craft and Rewriting

This week we have another installment of what I learned at the writing conference I attended. This talk was given by Dan E. Johnson and covers craft and revision.

  • Read widely and read deeply. Our first job as writers is to be good readers. And not just to read, but to read critically. Read a ton in your genre to understand the expectations and hallmarks of your genre. But don’t stop there, read widely. Read other genres. Learn pacing from thrillers, love subplots from romance, and world building from fantasy. Read beloved books with a critical eye. What works and why? How can you incorporate that into your own story? Read chapter by chapter and summarize the plot and each scene.
  • Write better. Take classes, go to workshops, join a writing group, read books on craft. And most importantly practice. The more you write, the better you’ll write. If you do join a writer’s group, make sure it’s actually helpful. You don’t want people’s critiques to simply say they liked your work. You don’t want them to be too polite or afraid to say what they think. You need honesty to get better. And you have to have a thick skin. You need to be able to take the criticism if you want to improve. It’s all to make you a better writer.
  • Write characters your readers will care about. An interesting character needs to want something. Content characters are boring. You want to fully develop your characters unless they are just placeholders, then you can use simple stereotypes. Write people, not characters. Real people are full of complexities and contradictions. And real people have flaws. Flaws shouldn’t be as simple as they seem at first. A character is what a character does, or more correctly, what they mean to do. The reader has to relate to your character’s motivation.
  • High stakes. You need conflict to make a story and character motivation is king. Put your character up a tree and throw rocks at her.
  • Character arcs. Readers want to see your character change and grow.
  • Plot and setting complexity. Your story is a part of a larger world, so you’ll have glimpses of the greater world behind the story. Subplots are also important. There’s always something going on and you need to create a rich world for your character. Weave the different subplots together. Subplots can increase or slow down your pace as needed and can emphasize something about your character.
  • Immerse your reader in the story. Details make all the difference. Sensory detail and small setting detail will flesh out your story. Load up on the five senses.
  • Good writing is rewriting. Focus on characters first. Do all your characters make sense? Are they consistent throughout? Then look at plot. Does it work with the character? Does it develop the character or move the plot forward? Then do the highlighter trick. Use a different color highlighter for each of the five senses to see what you need to incorporate. Finally, focus on language. Read your story aloud. You will hear the problems in your prose.

Do you agree with these tips? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Writing Young Adult

Young Adult novels are extremely popular right now. I myself write Young Adult fantasy. But there can be a lot of confusion around what YA is. At the writer’s conference I attended last month, one speaker talked about what makes good YA. Here’s what they discussed.

First of all, good writing is good writing. The same things that make writing successful in adult books will work to make good YA as well. Character, plotting, and theme apply to YA as much as they do adult books.

The biggest difference is the audience. YA actually has two audiences. One is the adult gatekeepers, like publishers, teachers, and parents. Two is the actual teenager who will read your story. This is children age 12 and up. Really successful YA fiction appeals to both adults and teenagers. To do this you need to have age appropriate subjects and adventures. This includes the vocabulary and language you choose. But don’t oversimplify and don’t talk down to your readers. Teenagers may be inexperienced, but they are not dumb.

Another key is character. The protagonist should be 13 to 17 years old, with most characters averaging 16 in YA books. They have to be likeable, relatable, or both for your readers to connect with your story. No one wants to follow a character they have no interest in for 200 pages. Your protagonist should also act their age and behave age appropriately. Remember your audience and write a character they’ll believe and will want to read about.

Next let’s talk about POV. YA books are usually in first or third limited POV. These are the POVs where the reader is very close to the character and are therefore more immersive, which teens prefer. Also, be sure to limit the number of different POVs you utilize in your story. Especially first person POVs, which can get confusing when there’s more than one.

Finally, we have tone and plotting. Listen to how teenagers really talk and write in that tone. When it comes to plot, YA books are simpler than adult books with less subplots. Once again this doesn’t mean to oversimplify. YA books are just more focused. Outline your story when you are finished (if you didn’t start with an outline) to make sure the story structure is strong and that you’ve hit all your plot points.

These keys should help you to better understand YA and how to write it. What are your best practices for writing YA? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

What You Can Learn at a Writer’s Conference

On Saturday I attended the Michigan Writing Workshop outside of Detroit. I’m here to share my experience with you today. The event was peopled with agents and Chuck Sambuchino, author and former editor for Writer’s Digest. It was an opportunity to learn about craft and publishing and to pitch to agents.

Needless to say this was a great opportunity and step forward in anyone’s writing career. Whether you’re a beginner writer who can learn a great deal about craft from agents and speakers in the event, or a more advanced writer looking to get an agent or get published, any writer can benefit from a good writer’s conference. They didn’t just have classes on craft, from how to write a great mystery or YA story to how to revise, but they also had classes on self-publishing, what you need to know about agents, and how to build your platform. Obviously, every conference will offer different classes, but will usually provide talks on both how to improve your writing and how to get published. If you are a novice writer, focus on learning the craft of writing. What’s the point of publishing a story that isn’t ready yet? Agents only accept the best, so learn how to perfect your story first. Then worry about agents and publishers after.

Pitching is another big part of writing conferences. This is great because you get the time and attention of an agent you’re not guaranteed through anonymous email. You only have ten minutes of their time so your pitch has to be concise as well as intriguing. I talk about pitching here. It is vital you research the agents before you sign up for your pitching sessions. And agents appreciate the research. I prefaced my pitches by saying why I wanted to pitch with them specifically and explained why they would be interested in my story based on what they had said they look for in a story in their bios and online. It definitely got their interest in my story. I pitched to 4 agents and got 3 partial requests for my manuscript. One lesson about pitching that Chuck said that stuck with me was that pitching offers have no expiration date. Yes, if you wait too long, the agent will probably forget talking to you specifically, but they will definitely say no to a manuscript that isn’t ready. Get your work perfected, then query. Just make sure to mention you met them and where.

Conferences are a great opportunity, both towards getting published and as a learning opportunity. Plus it’s a chance to network with other writers. I definitely recommend going to one yourself. Read how to prepare for your first conference here. What are your experiences with conferences? Share below and happy pitching!

Julia

Follow my blog at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Writing while Depressed

On a good day, writing is all about passion and love, loving what we’re doing and loving our stories and characters. But that all dissipates when we’re depressed. Our drive and motivation vanish, everything seems horrible and cliché, and we begin to doubt we even know what an original thought is. We lose our strength and our will to push through the beak feelings we have. So how do we face our depression?

  • Have a writing habit in place. If you’re in the habit of writing, it will be easier to write through your low periods. Even if it’s just a page a day, accomplishing this task will make you feel productive and positive. It can even be a page of crap. Words can always be edited, but not if there are no words.
  • Set realistic goals. Setting goals too high is just setting yourself up for failure. And failing to meet your goals will just make you feel worse about yourself and your abilities. But setting and making realistic goals will help you feel good and like a productive member of society. Set your goals when you wake up and evaluate how you did before you go to bed. Having a goal just might make the difference to actually finishing a task as well, so give it a shot.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Some days you just won’t be able to push through and accomplish difficult tasks and that’s okay. You should recognize things will be difficult for you and be kind to yourself. It’s so easy to give into self-loathing, but that’s the depression talking, not reality. Forgive yourself and give yourself grace.
  • Work on easier tasks. Some things may just be difficult for you to tackle on a bad day. Allow yourself to set more complicated or onerous tasks aside for the moment and accomplish the ones you can handle that day.
  • Listen to some upbeat music. Music really does affect our moods and while we might feel like indulging in some sad tunes, try listening to something that will give you energy and motivation instead. Avoid listening to tunes that bring up painful or sad emotions.
  • Change things up. Try a change of scenery, maybe that new café you’ve been waiting to check out or a sunny spot at the park. A new location may inspire you or give you some energy.
  • Reward yourself. Give yourself a little treat for accomplishing even the smallest things. Have a piece of your favorite candy or read a few pages of your favorite book.
  • Reach out to others. We all hate asking for help, but even just sharing how we feel with someone else lessens our burden. Your friends and family love you, so allow them to support you on those awful days.
  • Take care of yourself. Show yourself love and do the little things to take care of yourself. Eat regularly, make sure you’re hydrated, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. These things will also help lift your mood so don’t ignore them.
  • Remember why you write. You write for a reason so don’t let yourself forget why on those bad days. Remember why you love it and set goals to accomplish and a game plan for when you are feeling better.
  • Take regular breaks. Schedule in times to rest between your work and follow through with them. Your mind will appreciates the breaks and you’ll be more productive in the long run. Read a book for fifteen minutes or go for a short walk. Then get back to work (even if it’s just trying to write).
  • Allow yourself a day off. Some days you just know you can’t get any work done and that’s okay. Remember to be kind to yourself. Spend the day on self-care so the next day you’ll be able to do a little more.
  • Channel your emotions. Use those powerful emotions in that tricky scene you’ve been putting off or to fuel that character to make them more realistic and relatable.

Use these tips to help you get through those low days. Above all be kind to yourself and remember that these days will pass and get better. What are your tips for writing while depressed? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

How to Get Your Foreshadowing Right

Foreshadowing can be a tricky thing to master in your story, but it can add depth and subtlety to your work. When it works, it’s like a magic trick. The payoff is satisfying and we don’t know how we didn’t see it coming. When it’s not done right, the reader feels disappointed and cheated. So let’s look at some tips for foreshadowing.

  • You need the set up. You have to plant clues all through the beginning that prepare your reader for the payoff. They have to anticipate the ending, even just subconsciously. You don’t want to give the ending away, just show it is a possibility so that when it happens, the reader says “why didn’t I see that coming?” If you don’t plant clues, the ending will seem out of nowhere and unrealistic, leading to reader disappointment. Especially if things seem to be going another way. For instance, if you show two characters growing closer together, but then suddenly have them get together with other characters they’ve shown no previous connection with, readers are going to feel cheated by the switch.
  • Foreshadowing is for significant events, not the little everyday things. Don’t overdo your foreshadowing.
  • Don’t plant the clues without the payoff. According to Chekov’s rule, if you introduce a gun into the story, that gun must go off later. Otherwise readers will feel cheated and disappointed you didn’t develop that thread. There must be consequences.
  • Plan backwards. Foreshadow big events by going back and deciding when and where to plant your clues. Sometimes this is easier to do backwards from the event.
  • Plant your clues early on. The more important the event, the more important it is you plant your clues early on.
  • Payoff every hint. Don’t foreshadow things that aren’t significant. But every plant must have its payoff or the reader will feel the story is unresolved. They will feel there’s a thread untied, so tie them all off.
  • Consider foreshadowing big reveals in your characters’ backstories. Don’t mislead your readers or surprise them when you finally reveal backstory. Don’t contradict the truth or lead your readers to believe something you’ll later reveal to be untrue.
  • Foreshadowing can be created by manipulating the mood, setting the tone for the scene. But don’t set the scene with a specific tone if nothing happens or to just add tension.
  • Use rewriting as a way to finesse your foreshadowing. Whether it’s adding clues or rewriting them since the ending changed, always do a pass through your revisions to get your foreshadowing right.

How do you get foreshadowing correct? Share your answer below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.