Archive | April, 2010

Question of the Week: Posting on FictionPress

30 Apr

Hey all, just a quick reminder, we are still having a Comedy Contest, the deadline for which is May 1st. We’ve got some entries already, so crack open your arsenal of hilarity and crack our ribs in the process!

And another reminder for the fantabulous Book Cover Contest which is also still running! The deadline is May 1st as well, so break out the coloured pencils and flaunt your visual art skills!

~~~

After our interview with the Plagiarism Haven group on livejournal last week, we thought this question from Cassie was particularly relevant:

I was wondering how you all got over the paranoia that comes with posting a story on a site like FictionPress. The way I see it, it’s better to post something on a site to see what others think – in a totally unbiased opinion (since friends could potentially say it rocks to make you feel better or something). But – and maybe it’s just me – I’m almost too paranoid to post anything I feel is moderately-publishable simply due to plagiarism. Like, what if while my story is posted, someone copy/pastes whatever I have so far and finishes it off in their own way before I can? And it gets published under their name? There really wouldn’t be any way to refute their ownership, would there?

I suppose my question is: how were you able to get over that paranoia (if you even experienced it)? And is it possible to “pitch” an idea to a publisher even if the story isn’t completely finished yet?

~~~

When I started posting QUEEN OF GLASS on FictionPress (back in 2002), I had NO paranoia whatsoever–mostly because it was years before any kind of plagiarism scandal rocked the site, and years before I even considered QOG worthy of publication. As the years passed, and I came to realize that QOG could potentially be published, I began to wonder if posting it online would somehow hurt my chances.

I wound up removing the story from FP right when I queried agents–to avoid any kind of complications. Thankfully, any lingering paranoia I have about copies of QOG floating around on the internet is abated by the fact that the new draft is completely and utterly different from the version on FP–even the ending of the series has been altered. So, if people think they know how the series will end, they’re in for a biiiig surprise.

All that being said, I think FP is a wonderful place to begin building your readership base. Without the support of my FP readers and the invaluable feedback they gave me about the series, I never would have gotten this far! It’s amazing to have a group of rooting for you, and following you from FP to publication. If you’re uncomfortable posting your work on FP, then consider sharing the first few chapters or something–just enough to get people enticed.

The Writer With Her First Book Deal

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Honestly, you’ll only see this concern from newer writers. Well, for the most part.

Because once you’ve been around the block you realize how really freakin difficult it is to get a book published. So, the idea that someone who doesn’t even have any original ideas (otherwise why are they stealing yours?) is able to steal, write, and publish, well, it’s a bit far fetched.

Copyright law is such that your work is copyrighted the moment you write it. And in theory, its easily provable that you wrote it– you have drafts, a date stamp on your FP work, maybe some emails with your friends brainstorming the plot, etc. If, on the off chance it really does get ripped off, chances are you’ll recoup any losses.

Just my two cents. I dont worry about posting work online– I’ve left my older stories up permanently, and I share teasers on my blog.

The Literary Agent and Writer With Another Book Deal

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Mostly, I haven’t been worried about plagiarism; my posted WIP is a big, sprawling, unpublishable mess with important information missing. The other things I’ve posted are short stories and I’m not really worried about them. I’ve googled important phrases sometimes to check if anyone’s stolen my work but I haven’t found anything. I think that published authors and nonfiction writers can sell books based on outlines but I don’t know about unpublished authors.

The Writer Querying Agents

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I agree with Mandy.  If someone steals your work and profits from it, you can prove that the work is yours.  The date a work goes up online is permanently associated with that work.  I guess if this happened to me I would just take whatever action was necessary to recoup any lost income.  On the other hand, if someone stole my work and called it their own but didn’t profit, (say, by posting it under their name on their own blog,) I guess I would be angry, but I don’t think it would be my un-doing. 

I also think most of us take precautions to avoid being plagiarized.  For instance, I’ve never posted more than the first several chapters of a novel I think might be publishable. 

Writing – and in fact life in general – requires a constant evaluation of risk versus reward.  I think the rewards I reaped from being a part of the FictionPress community far exceeded any risks I took by posting my work there.

To address your other question, if you are an unpublished writer of fiction, you can’t pitch your work to a publisher if it’s not complete (which is another great reason to feel secure about posting the first chapters of a novel-length work!)

The Other Writer Waiting on Submissions

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When I was actively posting on FictionPress, I had to hide this from my parents because they were afraid someone would steal my work and get it published under their name. Obviously we all know how unlikely it is that would actually happen, but I still have a sealed copy of the original draft of Antebellum in my desk that I certified mailed to myself years ago. Just in case. 😉

So I don’t think that FictionPress writers have to worry about big-time plagiarism, but as the Plagiarism Haven ladies have taught us, there are those out there who might steal your work and post it somewhere else, not for profit, but for vanity.

My objection to posting on FictionPress these days is that it takes away the suspense from your published work. I had two, almost three complete novels posted on FictionPress, and though they have undergone a severe facelift, the general plot is still the same, as are the endings. So there are still those out there who could completely spoil the plot of the second book if my first book has any success.

I didn’t take my stories down until I went on submissions, but I have no doubt that they needed to be taken down. Why would someone go to the trouble of publishing my books if they are still available for free online? Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t leave up some sample chapters…  I believe in posting chunks or chapters for free to get people interested in your work. Just not the whole shebang.

If you are a debut author you can’t pitch an unfinished project to an agent, let alone a publisher. But once you have a good track record you can sell books to publishers based on ideas alone.

The Writer Waiting on Submissions

~~~

What are your thoughts on posting on FictionPress?

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Mission: Description

29 Apr

Hey all, just a quick reminder, we are still having a Comedy Contest, the deadline for which is May 1st (this Saturday!). We’ve got some entries already, so crack open your arsenal of hilarity and crack our ribs in the process!

And another reminder for the fantabulous Book Cover Contest which is also still running! The deadline is this Saturday, May 1st as well, so break out the colored pencils and flaunt your visual art skills!

~~~

Vanessa Di Gregorio
~

As with dialogue, description is where you’ll often find overwriting and underwriting. Most people, however, will underwrite their description; it isn’t often that you see description that is overwritten anymore. But be aware! There should be a decent balance to your dialogue and description.

So, what is the point of description? Like dialogue, it often helps advance the plot with the actions of your characters. But it should also help readers visualize the people and places in your manuscript.

Picture Perfect

The best way to go about writing description? Visualize it! Where are your characters? What is surrounding them? Are they in a lush tropical forest, surrounded by greenery? Or are they riding a camel through the desert, surrounded by endless mounds of blowing sand for miles and miles? And don’t feel that your description needs to be in huge chunks happening before and after your dialogue. Incorporate your description into your dialogue as well. Think of a movie (or heck, real life!) – people aren’t standing stock still when speaking. What are your characters doing? What is the setting? Are they walking, sitting, or lying down on the bed talking over the phone? Then picture what a movie would do. What might they be doing then? They might fiddle with the phone cord, wrapping it around their fingers as they lay in bed on their stomach. They might be standing but decide to sit down. Do they ever get distracted during the dialogue? If they do, what is it that distracts them? A black cat? A knife being suddenly thrown at them? A flash mob? Do certain things in their setting make them talk about certain things? Ask yourself a lot of questions – especially when you’re struggling with something.

Make Sense of Everything

But visuals aren’t EVERYTHING. Not only do we see, but we touch, taste, hear, and smell as well. You need to include all the senses in your writing. I’m not saying to always include all 5 senses all the time; that’s a bit extreme. But every now and then, stop to consider it as well. If we go back to the tropical forest, what is it that you would smell, taste, touch, or hear? Perhaps you would pick up on the sounds of the rainforest, such as the constant buzz of insects, or the sudden bird call. And when I say touch, I mean, what do your characters FEEL (and not just with their hands)? Perhaps the oppressive heat bearing down, or the sweat trickling down their neck.

Show, Don’t Tell

Often, a lot of writers will begin to tell us things that have happened. Instead of TELLING us that something happened, SHOW it actually happening. Use action to convey information instead of just stating it. For example: If a mother and daughter get into a fight, don’t just mention briefly that they fought (especially if it is integral to plot/character development). Try showing the actual argument itself, dialogue and description and all. Another example (but much more basic):

Elena was agitated.

-> Elena drummed her fingers on the table.

See how even with something so simple, you can still flesh it out to tell us rather than show? Picture what your character does when agitated, or annoyed, or upset. How can you convey that visually? Go through the first few pages of your manuscript; do you have lines like that? Can you visualize an action instead?

What’s Your Tone?

Description is a great way to set the tone and atmosphere. When choosing words for your description, always keep in mind what kind of tone you’re trying to set. Is the sewing and thread shop full of cobwebs and creaky floorboards, with boarded up windows and candles? Or is it bright and cheery, with dolls lining the shelves and bright-colored threads everywhere? Description doesn’t have to be boring; it can keep your readers on the edge of their seat as well.

Details, Details…

But remember: don’t go overboard! Don’t write five paragraphs of detailed descriptions. Sure, little details are great; maybe one character fiddles with their wedding ring a lot. But pacing is important. The little details become a bit irrelevant in a chase scene, for example. Running through alleyways and swerving around cars while your character is chasing a criminal works for a scene like that; but mentioning how much graffiti is on the alleyway wall and the wafting smell of the Chinese restaurant probably won’t work in that chase scene. You need to target what you want your readers to focus on. Again, consider your pacing and your tone; if a lot of action is going on (and I mean heart-pounding, edge-of-seat action), you probably don’t want to mention all the little details. It’ll slow everything down. But the little details are great in the calmer scenes.

Editorial Trick of the Trade

Not sure if you have enough description of your characters or settings? Try this: Make a list of all your characters, and go through it, highlighting or writing down what you are told about them. Write down physical description and well as family relations, and anything relevant to their character development. Then look at your list. Is your character described only visually? Or only through important events? Do you think what you have makes them in-depth enough? And with setting, try making a map of a certain scene. Does it make sense? Can you map it out roughly? Or does it not make sense at all?

Write Away!

My best piece of advice? Practice. Take a notebook with you everywhere you go, and observe people. Are you drinking coffee at a small little café? Or on the subway heading to work? Jot things down; how would you describe the place, such as the café or the subway? And then take a look at the people around you. How would you describe them? What are they doing? Writers are observers; so pull out your little writers notebook, and write away.

Some Prompting

Instead of coming up with brilliant writing prompts myself for you to do, I thought I’d share some great descriptive writing prompts I found. Try it HERE!

I suggest at least doing the first one. It takes into account that everyone has a different writing style (so some of you might write more detailed description, and others will be very sparse). Let me know if you tried them out, and if they were at all helpful.

And if you really want to practice writing description some more, try writing a description of a tropical forest setting, and use at least one sense other than the visual. Try to incorporate some sort of tone and atmosphere as well (perhaps go dark and scary like Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now, or perhaps have a hunter who feels at home – go nuts).

So, get to writing! And have fun!

~~~

Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

In Defense of the Romance Genre

28 Apr

By June Hur
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At university, when surrounded by fellow English majors who, for example, have a book by Virginia Woolf in hand, and perhaps have a stack of books by Faulkner in their backpack, and have a small book of poetry by Keats tucked inside their purse, I could not help but blush when asked what my book was about. I told them it was a “historical” which sounds much more literary than admitting that I wrote a historical ROMANCE. After this incident I began asking myself why I was so embarrassed of being a romance writer. It was then that I recalled the documentary I watched a while back and shared on my personal blog. I wanted to share this BBC documentary (focused on the romance novel and its industry) with you all, knowing that among you there are those who write in the romance genre, which, unfortunately, is one of the most despised genres in literature. Ever wondered why? Spare an hour or so of your time to learn some VERY interesting facts about the romance industry. And it will most definitely give romance writers a confidence boost—IF you need it at all, that is.

Happily Ever After
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

~~~~~~~

June Hur is the author of The Runaway Courtesan. She is currently awaiting the response of an agent who requested her full manuscript. When she is not working on her next book, she can usually be found at a book shop, searching for a Great Love Story to read and analyze. You can follow her on Twitter or through her blog.

My First E-Reader: The Barnes & Noble Nook

27 Apr

by Savannah J. Foley

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Last week I was given a surprise gift, as an appreciation for Administrative Professional’s Day: The Nook, from Barnes & Noble!!! (You can be sure the person who gave it to me received a very lovely thank-you note on Monday).

I was shocked. An e-book reader? Me? I had some Amazon gift cards left over from Christmas, and while I had considered purchasing a Kindle I ultimately decided to purchase real books instead. At the time, I figured, “Spend $200 of gift cards plus $60 of my own money on a Kindle, winding up with a Kindle and no books, OR spend all $200 on books and have many books!”

As some of you might remember, I chose ‘many books’. They are still trickling in as some were advanced purchases, and I’ve made it through three so far 🙂 Thanks again everyone for your suggestions!

Anyway, so I had decided against an e-book reader earlier this year. Plus, you know, I have a loyalty to books. Physical books are what put me where I am today. I believed in the romance of paper books; the smell, the sight, the touch, the dog-eared pages, the author’s picture in the jacket flap… I knew that e-book readers were the way of the future, and I knew that I would come around eventually, but I wanted to hold out for a more technologically advanced version (yes, even more advanced than the iPad). I believe in The Future.

But now that one fell into my lap, excitement gripped me! My own Nook! My own mini-computer with which to read books off of! What what! I couldn’t wait to get it home so I could play with it. I waited all day just to open it, but once I actual sat down to do it, I was faced with a problem: How?

(I’ll apologize right now that my MacBook takes pictures like it’s a mirror, so all of these pictures are backwards)

Seriously, this thing was bound so tight I’m surprised I could find seams in the white cardboard. Immediately I understood why they had such a strict return policy… the Nook was near impossible to open. I didn’t think I was going to get it out…

Then, I realized it was meant to slide out of its case *Facepalm*. Continue reading

Gender in Fantasy

26 Apr

Seeing standard gender roles in fantasy is boring, to me at least. I get a ‘been there done that’ kind of feeling when I see women hanging around taking care of kids or waiting to get rescued, or when an entire army is made up of manly men. If you’re going to convince me to accept magic, strange creatures and some kind of epic quest, I’m going to ask why the chicks seem to be filling traditional Western gender roles. Even when some plucky heroine appears and sets out to do something interesting, half the time she’s dressed like a man or she faces discrimination for acting like a man. *CoughEowynCough*

You might say that a lot of fantasy is set in a something like the past so, naturally, men fight wars, rule nations and get entrusted with the fate of the world. Most women stay at home taking care of stuff and getting used as pawns by their menfolk. We don’t have to think about these things; they just makes sense and seem natural. It’s important to remember our Western views are only traditional to a small part of the world and only represent a few hundred years of gender relations. Also, they’re typically ideals and few people really fit cultural standards. So, put yourself out on a limb and don’t just put your characters into the slots we have ready and waiting. Think about why men and women do what they do and then play with it. It will not only force you to think outside the box, it will strengthen your ability as a writer.

Here are a few suggestions for ways to change things up, or at least topics to think about:

  1. Try reversing some gendered trait. For instance, make aggression a feminine trait or make fashion something men follow obsessively while still being considered ‘manly.’ These things aren’t innate to the sexes, they’re cultural.
  2. Think about why characters holding certain positions are male or female. Are your army’s generals all men? How come? The ancient Chinese queen, Fu Hao, was the third wife of Emperor Wu Ding and one of his best generals. There are oracle bone inscriptions mentioning her success in battle and in bringing back tribute from neighboring groups. This didn’t stop her from becoming a mother either.
  3. Play with your marriage customs. Going for something exotic? Polygyny is when a man has multiple wives but a much rarer form of polygamy is polyandry, where a woman has multiple husbands. Also, who is the head of the house, the man or the woman, and what does it mean for the family?
  4. Don’t just exclude women from the political sphere. Throughout history, women have managed to play politics even in strongly patriarchal societies. Emperor Augustus’ wife Livia had a son from her first marriage and it’s thought she poisoned or had banished most of the other males in Augustus’ family to ensure her son would inherit the throne.
  5. Who are the religious leaders? Are they exclusively male or female? Is it a mix? In Ancient Egypt, there were priests and priestesses, though which groups were more powerful changed over time depending on which god ranked highest.
  6. Think about who does the farming. In agricultural societies where women remained in charge of food production, they retained power. The Iroquois are the classic example of this. Women owned the land and farmed it. If they didn’t like what their men were doing they cut them off from food. They could stop a war or start one this way.
  7. Do you only have two genders? Why? Four or five are way more interesting.
  8. And remember women are just as hard on other women as men. So, a plucky heroine out to prove women are capable of something or other not only has to confront male bias and discrimination, she has to deal with the possible alienation of her friends who will want her to ‘act like a girl’ and conform. Remember high school?

Hopefully, I’ve encouraged some of you fantasy writers to think about the roles men and women have in your stories and then to mix it up! Do some research on other cultures; see what quirky or interesting traditions they have and think about how you would write about them. Read Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home. Try challenging yourself and see where it takes you!

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Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of Priscilla the Evil along with several short stories and another novel on Fictionpress. She will be starting grad school in the fall and until then plans on spending her time querying agents and doing some archaeology. You can visit her blog here.

LTWF is Hoping to Get Bigger and Better

25 Apr

Hey guys!

We’ve been thinking of ways to try and improve the blog… so who better to ask than our awesome readers? We’re wondering if there is anything you’d like to see more of (or see us start doing)! Have any suggestions? Hit us up in the comments and in the poll to let us know. We want to hear from you!


Question of the Week: Waiting Before Writing

23 Apr

Hey all, just a quick reminder, we are still having a Comedy Contest, the deadline for which is May 1st. We’ve got some entries already, so crack open your arsenal of hilarity and crack our ribs in the process!

And another reminder for the fantabulous Book Cover Contest which is also still running! The deadline is May 1st as well, so break out the coloured pencils and flaunt your visual art skills!

~~~

This week’s question come’s from Landon, who asks:

When an idea for a novel first strikes you, how long do you stew over it before actually writing?

~~~

It depends. Sometimes, it’s months–maybe years. I wrote the first chapter of what would become HADES during my senior year of high school–and then I let it sit on the back burner for…five years. With A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, I came up with the idea one random day, and then two or three weeks later, I began writing the first book.

Right now, I have at least eight different stories brewing–some of them have been brewing for years, others for months…but none of them are ready yet. It’s hard to tell WHEN they’ll be ready–I usually just wake up one morning utterly excited to write it, and realize that it’s time for me to get them down on paper. That’s not very sound advice, but I think that feeling of knowing when it’s ready comes from a combination of getting most of the concrete details down, as well as just getting that spark of excitement/inspiration.

The Writer Still Excited About Landing Her First Book Deal

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It’s never the same for me. I never start writing right away, although if I think of a great line or scene, I’ll jot down some quick notes. But I like to let it work itself out as much as possible in my head before I go about getting it down on paper. For the most part, I’ll wait till I have a good sense of who the characters are or what the plot is; and even if I don’t know everything that will happen, I tend to surprise myself as I write and go a different direction anyways.

For my current YA MS that I’m writing, I let it stew around in my mind for around 5 years; which, really, is turning out to be more difficult than if I had just let it swirl around my mind for a couple of months. The reason? I’ve rewritten the story so much in my head over the 5 years, that I find myself wondering if I should bring back certain elements from past “mental” revisions as I write. Now, I was always just too busy to even get around to writing it, which is why it took forever to start it; in all honesty, I was ready to start writing it years ago. I have one idea that’s been developing in my mind for 6 years now, and that story hasn’t really changed much; but I know that I’m still not ready to write it. Another is one I just came up with a few weeks ago, and it’s getting to the point where I know that soon, I’ll have to start writing it. Some stories only took a couple of weeks to begin writing, and others a few months. My advice is, start writing when your characters start demanding it in your mind; when you wake up just itching to write it. Just go with your gut; you’ll know when a story is ready to write.

– The Writer Writing Her First Book

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Great question! For my first few books, I wrote when inspiration struck, after maybe a day of outlining. But after I began revising my book for publication, I became a bit of a technical writer. Just a bit: the melodramatic, emotion gushing writer is still in me. Somewhere. Now, I do have a new book in mind. But I’m still trying to get to know the characters. I need to know them before I can get writing, otherwise…I get stuck often. Also, I need to come up with a great ending that will be like a compass to me, directing me through the rest of my story. This last bit (about needing a good ending) is the factor that has ALWAYS got me through my projects. I need that exciting final scene at the end to keep me forging onwards from chapters one. I would have probably started this book by now had I not been busy revising my current manuscript. I have to send it back to an agent. But as soon as I do, I’m going to start planning out my new book right away. Yes. I need a plan, just as a man needs a map when in the wilderness to find his way back home.

The Writer Who Got a Full Request

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It depends for me as well. When I got the idea for Priscilla the Evil I knew I had to write it right then, so I got to a stopping point in my WIP and just sat down and wrote it. Other ideas stew for much longer. I usually start with a character and a situation but sometimes I just have a character floating around and I can’t really start writing until I know what she’s going to do. That’s the point I’m at right now; I’m revising my last WIP and trying to figure out a plot for a character I’ve had hanging around for years. Until I know what’s going on I can’t begin.

The Writer Querying Agents

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I’ve found that if I start writing immediately I lose the story. I get so eager to capture the particular feeling I want that I write weird plot lines and fuzzy characters, and then the idea gets ruined because they’ve already imprinted on these bad plots. Ideas are like baby chicks that way :-).

I try to give it a few weeks to let things sit around in my head before I start seriously writing. I take a few notes, maybe write a short description or a few lines of dialogue if something is really beautiful to me, but I leave the major plotting for when I’ve had a while to really work out the details. Also, I’ve started using Synopses, and they are SO great, because they help me map out the plot before truly beginning, and I’m less likely to feel stuck or mired down.

-The Writer Waiting on Submissions

~~~

I’m constantly thinking up new ideas, and I almost always think each new idea is the best idea I’ve ever had.  Of course, I’m almost always wrong!  My love affair with a new idea usually lasts about twenty-four hours.  During that period of time, I make sure I type up enough notes that I won’t be able to forget where the idea was going.  If I was inspired by something specific – a song lyric, for instance – I’ll add that into my notes, too.

Sometimes, just that simple exercise of getting the idea down on paper is all I need to show me that the idea doesn’t work.  But if the typed notes still hold my interest when I re-read them the next day, I’ll start to describe the idea to the people closest to me.  Many times, just talking about an idea out loud will be enough to show me that it isn’t going anywhere or that I’m not truly in love with it.  For me, it really comes down to the question, “Could I spend the next two years of my life developing, revising, and hopefully promoting this story?”

If I’m still answering these questions with, “YES!  YES!!!”  I start outlining.  Then I flesh things out, and then flesh them out more.  I do character analyses and work up the back story.  All of this background work could take a month or more.  If I get through all of that, and I still really believe in the idea, I start the actual ‘writing.’

-The Newest LTWF Contributor Who is Already Out on Submissions!

~~~

I wait. A plot is obviously important in a story, but for me, when I’m just starting out, it’s more important to have dynamic characters. If my characters aren’t realistic, then I won’t want to explore them, and the plot will flop by association.

It’s like when a boring person tries to tell a story. Nobody wants to listen to them; they’re boring. I’m the same in the writing sense, where I won’t want to write them because they’re just not interesting. I have to really have a good sense of what kind of characters I want them to be. Then I can take those personalities and think, “What might happen if I put this person in this situation?” and they actually help me shape and define the plot. By the end, almost always, the story arch will have taken crazy turns, simply because the characters have become entities of their own and won’t have always bent to my will. I don’t mind though, it generally turns out a lot more intense than the initial idea :).

Another reason I might wait is because I’m not, for lack of better words, “mature” enough to write what I want to write. I don’t believe I have the right life experiences to portray the story and people in the most realistic way possible. There are a couple of those floating around in my head, and I can see them, but they’re just out of reach.

-The Writer Editing her First Novel

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Do YOU wait before writing?

~~~

You can ask us a Question of the Week by clicking on QOTW in the upper part of our website and leaving us a comment. We try to answer Questions in the order they are received, unless something is really pressing.

Guest Article: Endings and Climaxes

22 Apr

Hey everyone! After the big discussion on writing climaxes and endings last week, we’re happy to present a guest article by Kat Zhang on just those issues!

~~~

Endings and Climaxes

by Kat Zhang

~~~

So you’re 50,000 (or 100,000—or even 150,000!) words into your latest manuscript. Things are going well: your main character is lovable, the plot is engaging, troubles have piled up, and your heroine is in over her head. The foremost question on any sane reader’s mind is What’s going to happen next??

Wonderful, right? Except you, as the writer, are scratching your head and pondering the exact same thing. What is going to happen next? In order to build suspense, you’ve put your heroine in a seemingly impossible to fix situation. Maybe the love of her life thinks she’s killed his dog and won’t return her calls. Maybe the Big Bad has kidnapped her parents and hidden them in a top-secret lair in Madagascar. Or maybe she just needs to gather up all her strength and defeat the Forces of Evil. For the third time. With a toothpick.

Not the last one? Okay…

Whatever your heroine’s problems are, yours as the writer is how to end your story satisfactorily. In many ways, this is the most important part of your story. It’s certainly what’s going to be freshest on your reader’s mind when they close the book, and there’s nothing more frustrating than 300 pages of build-up only for all the tension and drama to leak out the last chapter like a squeaky balloon (Breaking Dawn, anyone?). No, you want your book to end with a bang!

The trouble is, endings are what most writers have had the least practice with. I don’t know about you, but I have so many orphan first and second chapters laying around, I don’t know what to do with them! So for everyone close to plotting out the last few chapters of your novel, here are some quick tips.

First of all, avoid the Deus Ex Machina. I tend to agonize over this myself. Many times, it’s a matter of opinion what counts as a Deus Ex Machina and what doesn’t. Think about the first Harry Potter book. There’s little Harry, facing the most powerful and evil wizard in the world, and what saves him? His mother’s love? What?

But it works. Why? One reason is buildup. This seemingly sudden savior was first mentioned in chapter one, and it actually answers other questions raised in the book, such as why Harry was left to his aunt and uncle. It doesn’t hurt that Harry has already been saved by this love once before, as a baby.

If you’re going to bring in something at the last second, make sure to foreshadow it first. Foreshadow it enough so that it seems slightly obvious to you—I’ve learned that if it seems very subtle to the writer, it generally goes over the majority of the readers’ heads. Will a hidden knife prove essential to the climax? Mention the heroine using it to peel an apple in the second chapter, or have her almost forget to pack it. Layer it in between other, seemingly more important things, and your readers will almost forget about it until your protagonist triumphantly pulls it out during the last battle.

The second reason the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone works is the fact that Harry has worked so hard already. The last few chapters are all about him, Hermione, and Ron braving challenge after challenge to reach the last chamber. Tellingly, both his friends are left behind during the course of this journey, leaving Harry to act on his own at the very end. So even if the final “attack” against Voldemort is taken out of his hands, we as the readers don’t feel like we’ve been ripped off because Harry has already proven himself worthy of the victory.

Finally, don’t forget the denouement. Derived from the French word meaning to “unknot,” the denouement is often left out of discussions concerning plot structure. But that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant! The denouement takes place after all the major action is over. It allows everyone (characters and readers alike) to take a deep breath, recollect themselves, and take one last look around before the ending forces us to say goodbye. Sometimes, this takes the form of an epilogue, but that needn’t always be the case.

What makes for a great denouement? Well, it’s a good time to show How Things Have Changed, and unless the fact that nothing has changed is the point of your novel, things should have changed! If nothing else, your characters should have developed. Think about the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m talking about the movie here—apologies to the book enthusiasts!). The return to the Shire is one big denouement. Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry sit among the other Hobbits, home at last after grueling adventure. Everyone else is happy and celebrating, but these four are in what seems to be their own little bubble. Their travels have changed them. They can never again be as innocent as their friends. (On a happier note, Sam gains the courage to ask out that pretty little hobbit lady he’s been eyeing!)

To summarize:

  1. The ending should not happen out of nowhere. Even if you intend it to shock your audience upon first reading, they should be able to go back over the body of the novel and think to themselves “Ah—there’s a hint in chapter three that this would happen!”
  2. If there is a happy ending, your main character must have earned it through her own actions and growth.
  3. Allow for reflection and proof of growth/change in the denouement.

A lot of work has gone into a novel before an ending can be solidified. But for most, tacking on a figurative or literal “The End” after the last few words is really just the beginning of another few months or even years of editing. Don’t let this overwhelm you—celebrate your accomplishment! Jump up and down a few times! Finishing a first draft is a great accomplishment, and if you’re not in a big hurry to perfect this particular manuscript, it may be a good idea to take a short break to work on other things. That way, you’ll be able to approach your editing with a fresh eye.

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Kat Zhang is currently an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing, who spends all her free time furiously editing her YA novel, HYBRID, to get it in shape for querying. She’s currently finishing a series about a three week trip to China on her blog, but will soon switch over to more writing related topics.

Interview with Plagiarism Haven

21 Apr

rachel1

An Interview of the PH ladies

By Rachel Simon

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I had the pleasure of interviewing the girls at Plagiarism Haven, a Livejournal community of eight FictionPress alumni whose work was plagiarized when it was on the website we all know and love.

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1. Have your feelings about plagiarism cooled, now that there is some distance between you and the incidents, or have they strengthened?

It seems as though we are split on this topic. Some of us have cooled down slightly, and some of us are still seething. At the time of the plagiarism fiasco, it was comforting to see so many readers up in arms about the injustice of it all. Though Meg wasn’t plagiarized, she was upset, and even wrote an article about what constitutes plagiarism, and what our legal rights are, as authors. Still, the whole situation stunk. Quite a few of us lost the will to write for a while. Lou, Simmy, Mi, Kendal, and Cheri all struggled to regain their footing. We all took a hit, but some of us managed to spring back easier than others. The fact remains that we were all stolen from, and betrayal hurts. On any level. To have something you’ve worked so hard on, turn up under someone else’s name? It’s a low blow. You see their authors notes, about how hard they worked to write this or that chapter, or how they struggled with keeping so-and-so in character. Struggles *you* had while *you *wrote it. You just want to slap them, honestly, for being so selfish. The most work they did was copying and pasting our work into a Word document, and later uploading it under their own name.

For some of us, bouncing back wasn’t so difficult. We still continued to be bombarded with ideas for new projects, and we tried to regain our footing by challenging each other to write one-shots of varying genres. We traded stories, and forced ourselves to put pen to paper. Plagiarism acted like writers block, in a sense, and sometimes the best thing to do in that situation is to just keep writing, even if whatever comes out is utter crap.

For others, it took time. The rest of us just tried to be supportive and encouraging. We forced them to do the challenges, and tried to offer advice where it was needed. Sometimes, all you can do is be supportive, and we all grew closer because of that. Like everyone at LTWF, we’ve made some incredible, lasting friendships throughout this entire experience.

2. Given your experience, would you ever feel comfortable if your books were sold as e-books?

Most of us haven’t given e-books much thought, to be honest. We’ve all been so focused on seeing our stories in print, that we never really bothered to consider the digital aspect of publishing. There’s just something about being able to hold a book in your hands, you know? It’s the way a book smells when you flip through the pages, or the way the spine cracks when you first open it. You can’t experience that with an e-book, and that makes the whole thing slightly less appealing.

Still, we are aware that e-books have become increasingly popular as of late, especially with Amazon’s Kindle, or B&N’s Nook. The books are cheaper than buying them in the store, in many cases, and that has great appeal to readers. E-books are also more convenient for some. If more people would have access to our work through e-books, it’s definitely something to think about. Meg said she would consider it if she were already an established author, and a few of us are kind of in the same boat, though selling books solely through the e-book market is not something most of us would be interested in.

Cheri, on the other hand, has done a fair amount of research on the subject, and is considering going the e-book route, strictly out of curiosity.

3. How did you take action against your plagiarists? Did anyone ever apologize? Why do you think your work was plagiarized?

In every case, we made sure to either contact the author, or the website (or both), asking them to remove the plagiarized work. Our readers would find out, and more often then not, would leave these people messages, also insisting they take the story down. This system generally worked, save for a few instances of stubborn teenagers who believed they had done nothing wrong. Sammy’s original copy of Don’t Make a Scene is still being posted on Blogger, and hasn’t had any success in removing it. Jen had a really difficult time getting one girl to remove her story as well.

Apologies have been far and few between. In most cases, the story was simply taken down, or the author deleted from whatever site. A few people argued that they hadn’t done anything wrong, and one girl claimed that she was mentally unstable, and that’s why she’d done it. We heard a few excuses, all of which were moot. For the most part, our plagiarists just slunk away with their tail between their legs. Save for one of Mi’s, who randomly popped up again, on a different website, assuming we’d never find her. Silly girl.

It’s hard to say why our work was plagiarized. Maybe it was their initial popularity on FictionPress, or just one person who really enjoyed it. Everyone who’s posted on FP has been jealous of other people’s review counts, and maybe that was why they did it. It’s hard to say. What one author may consider their worst work might look like a great opportunity for someone else to take advantage of. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme of reason to who or what got plagiarized, and we doubt we’ll ever really know why they did what they did.

4. There have been some complaints from the FP community that your exclusivity is more to boost your egos than to keep your stories safe–do you think your strict requirements and rules might be over-doing it?

We can see how people might think that, but that really isn’t the case. A lot of people were upset when we transferred our writing over to PH, and we don’t blame them. But we really did it as a safety precaution, and it isn’t like we’re keeping our work exclusively for the eight of us who post our work there. Right now our membership is over a thousand, and we still have people applying to join. It’s really daunting, the amount of people who joined LJ in order to continue reading our work. We’re still flabbergasted, every time we look at our inbox. We’re incredibly appreciative of everyone who’s applied, regardless of whether we’ve been able to let them in or not.

As for the rules and requirements, we don’t think we’ve overdone it. We don’t ask for much – just one act of participation a month. It doesn’t have to be a review; it can be an email, a response to a poll, helping put together a playlist. Anything to let us know they’re still around. People who tend to be more involved in something are generally less likely to sabotage it. So far, there hasn’t been a single plagiarism incident since we formed PH that was due to any of our members.

Because we do insist that people fill out an application, it’s easy to see how people might think we’ve gone overboard. It was something we wondered about at first, but then realized it was kind of necessary. People just started friending us, and we had no idea who they were. They just expected to get in, but anonymity was the problem on FP, so we tried to counteract that. Most people have been perfectly willing to provide us with some details about themselves, which helps to bolster our trust. It seems like a fair exchange. And we *have* let in silent readers, and some people who have never read us before. Being nice gets you a long way, especially if you consider the loads of angry emails and applications we’ve gotten. We can understand why some people might be upset, but yelling at people never gets
you anywhere, no matter what the situation.

Having gotten to know each other really well over the past ten months, we’d have to say ego has about as much to do with our website as cutlery. AKA, nothing. We really are there to help each other out, and to improve our writing. Some of the feedback we’ve gotten has been *incredibly* helpful, and has really helped to expand our writing. Sammy’s been posting her thesis, and her rewrite was done based on the changes suggested by PH readers. Kendal has posted various versions of a story, and asked our readers to select which ones to turn in for class. Other writers have based their rewrites and edits on suggestions as well. Everyone in the community, both readers and writers, have worked really well together, and in turn, have learned a lot. We try to interact with everyone as much as we can, and as far as we’re concerned, everyone is very self*less*. None of us think people *not* in PH. When we made the decision to leave FP, LJ just seemed like a logical place to go, since we were all previously members. Our need for convenience may have come across as us being egotistical, but that just isn’t the case.

5. When you made the decision to leave FictionPress, was it in part to protect a future goal of publication? How many of you (those who share their stories on PH) plan to pursue publication?

Not necessarily. Mi, Lou, and Sammy had initially joked about creating Plagiarism Haven, and then got to thinking – why the hell not? Lou had already created a new livejournal for the purpose of posting her writing, and Sammy had considered it. We figured it would just be easier to get a bunch of us together, and keep everything in one place. If we’d removed our work from FP, why *not* put them somewhere else? We don’t think our decision had anything to do with wanting to be published or not. We just wanted to continue sharing our work.

In terms of future publication, we all seem to be aiming in that direction. Some are closer than others, but it’s definitely on everyone’s minds. Cheri’s been looking into e-publication, and Sammy’s just begun querying. Jen sent out query letters a few years ago, but is currently revising her work before making another attempt. Meg’s also got it on her mind. Everyone is still writing furiously, but whether that particular piece is for publication or fun has yet to be determined. Only time will tell!

6. How did you find out your stuff was plagiarized? Did you look for it? Did somebody tell you?

In most cases, our readers were kind enough to inform us that our work had popped up on other sites (deviant art, quizilla, watpad, etc.). After that, a majority of us began using tools like Google Alerts to help track some of our work down. Sammy found one of her plagiarized stories that way, so the system does work. The wonderful people over at FP Watchers were also incredibly helpful in tracking down a few of our plagiarism cases.

7. Do you think there’s a way to keep your stories from being plagiarized, or protecting them in some way, without removing them from FP?

Until FP disables the copy and paste function, no. Just recently, we found out a few of our own members were still sharing our stories outside of PH. It was disappointing, to say the least, but not entirely unexpected. No matter what, someone will always find a way. The same goes for FP. Someone is always going to find a way to make your work their own. It isn’t right, but is often times inevitable. If your writing isn’t absolute trash, there’s always the chance that it will be stolen. Some people are brave enough to stick it out on FP, dealing with hundreds of thousands of anonymous readers. The smaller numbers of PH has kept problems at a low level, but we’ve still had some. The only truly safe place for your writing, without fear of plagiarism, is on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble.

A few of us have considered returning to FP, but the interaction we’ve had with everyone at PH has made the decision to stay incredibly easy. Everything is so much more personal, and it’s easier to interact with all of the readers. Some of them have become really good friends, and we’ve gained a few new friends as well. Some of our members even went so far as to start their own site, where they could post their own work. It can be a challenge, keeping everything organized using LiveJournal, but both sites function incredibly well, and we’re all really proud of what we’ve done. There’s also the added bonus of posting artwork alongside our stories, a feature we wish FP would consider. Book jackets are what catch a reader’s eye at the bookstore, and it’s been fun having that little extra something to share with our readers.

You can find the Plagiarism Haven girls at their Livejournal community.

Rachel Simon is a sophomore in college, majoring in Creative Writing with a minor in Literature. When she’s not surfing the web for celebrity gossip or the latest publishing industry news, she’s hard at work studying. You can find her blog here.


Until further notice, Rachel is on a hiatus from LTWF.
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Vlog Day: What It Feels Like to be on Submissions

20 Apr

by Sarah J. Maas and Savannah J. Foley

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Note: This vlog was recorded before Sarah signed with Bloomsbury for her debut novel QUEEN OF GLASS. We chose not to post it until after the deal was finalized, but we felt it was important to share with you our emotional states waiting on that final ‘yes.’ Savannah is still out on submissions but now with a super cute haircut 😛

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We’ve been making some incremental changes to LTWF, and we’re open to suggestion for features you’d like to see from us. Let us know in the comments!

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Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.