The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “writing”

Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award

The Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award is open for entries. The Kindle Storyteller Award is a new literary prize recognising newly published work in the English language across any genre and includes a £20,000 prize.

via Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award – Indies Unlimited

This looks like a great opportunity if you have a potential Kindle Direct Publishing manuscript ready or almost ready. The big plus, in addition to the award, is the publicity. That can be a nice boost for your writing career.

Thanks to Indies Unlimited for posting this.

Malcolm

Strategies for Revising Your Novel

“You’ve done it: typed The End. Those two wonderful words mark your graduation from always-wanted-to-write-a-novel to someone-who-did. Congratulations. Other ideas might be cooking away in the back of your brain, making you eager to start a new project. Often, this is where the spirit wanes as new writers lose momentum for the old manuscript. Because, you didn’t finish, did you? You only finished the draft. Now you have to focus on revising your novel.”  

7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel, Writer’s Digest

I generally take a dim view of checklists, laundry lists and other recipe-approaches to writing and rewriting. However, this Writer’s Digest article has decent ideas for what we should/might/sort of consider doing after we finish the first draft.

Here’s an interesting quote: “The rewrite is tougher than the draft. The draft is infatuation. The right rewrite strengthens your fiction into something that lasts to publication and gains a significant readership.” That seems to be the way it is. We roar through the first draft, having fun, slipping past the known flaws and lame sentences, because we’re blazing a trail into new territory.

Once that’s done, we need to see the story the way the reader might see it, or want to see it, and even though this article presents a checklist, it’s not half bad.

–Malcolm

 

 

Why does the blank page or empty screen scare so many people?

When the page or screen is empty, anything can be written on it. Looked at in another way, that page/screen represents infinity before you touch it; it represents the universe and the world as science understands them, and it represents all the probable worlds and possible futures and imagined places and circumstance the writer is capable of writing down or dreaming up.

No wonder it’s frightening. It has no boundaries to it.

Fence out what you don’t need.

Psychologists say we need personal boundaries in order to define who we are and who we’re not, what we believe in and what we don’t, and what we’re willing to do or say or think–or not. Sometimes people who don’t have sound emotional boundaries feel worthless.

Perhaps we get a sense of that worthless feeling when we stare at a blank page/screen and can’t seem to get our story, novel, essay or report started. Writing, while usually presented as a creative, mind-expanding activity (as in, “how to you think up stuff like this?”) is also a limiting activity.

If an empty page equals infinity, then a page with several words on it equals infinity narrowed down to what you wrote. One word, or at least, one sentence, cancels out a lot of the things that could have been on that page or screen. Scientists say that the human mind cannot logically or emotionally conceive of infinity. So, we have to start chipping away at the possibilities and probabilities until we have something manageable.

Suppose the first sentence you write is “Bob walked into the sunlit gulf waters at Apalachicola, Florida.” The limits set by that one sentence are huge. Most of what could have been said, is now out of consideration because it doesn’t fit with a real-world story set in the gulf waters off the Florida Panhandle.

Some writing gurus suggest that when you can’t think of the precise way you want to begin your story or essay, it’s better to write something–anything–rather than stare at the page or the screen for hours. For one thing, if you stare for a long time, then maybe you’re trying to think of a first sentence as what it will be in the final draft of the material when you’re just now starting the first draft. Tip: it’s easier to edit a sloppy sentence into a great final draft sentence than to try to think it up from scratch.

In order to chip away at the scary infinity of that empty page or screen, you don’t even have to write a bad opening sentence. You can simply say, “this is going to be an essay about how love conquers all even in a state prison” or “this is the beginning of my short story about Bob going swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and coming eye to eye with a shark.”

See, you’ve suddenly counteracted the “everything is possible” immensity of the blank page or screen. You’ve set some boundaries within which you plan to tell your story or state your philosophy. Any statement about what you think you might do is almost as valuable as a shoddy, first draft sentence. Or, if you love key words, you can type LOVE, POWER, PRISON or BOB, GULF, FLORIDA, SHARK. If you’re a Twitter person, put a # symbol at the beginning of each word and you’re getting to the gist of your intentions with hashtags.

If you have an outline, it might help. If you have a list of key points, it might help. Anything that “ropes off” your intended subject from the rest of the known universe gives you something your mind and the reader’s mind can deal with. Your little acre of infinity might indeed be mind expanding and totally outside the box when you get done with it. All of that’s easier to get down on paper or on  your Microsoft Word screen once you set some limits to infinity.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, fantasy, and paranormal stories and novels. However, the idea of getting something down on the page worked equally well when he wrote news stories, educational materials and computer documentation.

Writing: an essential task in a polarized world

Articles, essays, poetry and social media interactions suggest that a seemingly infinite number of people feel ground down by the recent Presidential campaign. The country appears more polarized about directions, methods and issues today than it did with the election of George Bush. A quick look at such digests of literary happenings as the news and links of Poets & Writers and Literary Hub, has–since the election–shown more politically oriented stories than usual.

George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) said in an interview in the March/April edition of Poets & Writers Magazine that, “It’s a tremendous literary mission to ask, ‘Can we re-imagine our country?’ It’s going to take some legwork, and it’s going to take some curiosity, which is in short supply these days. But I think for writers, it’s actually an exciting time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life that writing was a more essential task.”

What do we write? Facts and inspiration, I would say. That’s important whether one supported Clinton or Trump or Sanders. A lot of the legwork Saunders mentions is going to be digging up the facts. Some are calling this the post-truth era. For writers, like everyone else, weeding out the lies and slanted material is a large part of the legwork we need to do.

I’m appalled by the number of people on Facebook, for example, who read and listen only to the news they agree with and/or who presume without doing their own fact checking that their favorite essayist or commentator is always presenting objective information that fairly considers all sides of an issue. As writers, we not only need to fight this assumption, this outright laziness, but we need to prove to those who read our material that we’re as honest as we know how to be.

The inspiration  comes from not only addressing changes in the political focus and philosophy we consider negative, but in speaking well of those we like. The election and inauguration represent a fairly large change–or so it appears–in how we, as Americans, are being asked to view out country, what it stands for, and how it will operate within its borders and on the world stage.

Inspiration–like a good newspaper editorial or magazine essay–starts with facts. This concept was one of the hardest ideas for me to get across to students when I taught college journalism courses. Many students thought that stating an opinion meant that one could say anything they wanted. Maybe in a bar, but not in a reasonable newspaper, book or blog post. Inspiration that doesn’t begin with the truth isn’t worth anything. Passionate writers often need to rein in their zeal and ask “can my fervor be supported in the light of day?”

It’s easy to be reactive, to read an editorial or a news story and scream “that just totally sucks.” But what good is this outrage if that’s as far as it goes? As writers, it’s essential, I think, to do better than that. I think that if we can take care in creating balanced, realistically functioning worlds for our fiction, then we can take the same amount of care in looking at the real world we have here and just how it needs to be viewed or re-imagined.

It’s also easy to see our personal circumstances as universal. In my journalism class, a student wrote an editorial against a specific make of car, proclaiming that it was a real lemon. His proof: his grandmother had one that never worked right. That’s not proof. It might make for an interesting human interest story, but such an editorial is not the way to fight against the perceived abuses of an company or an industry. We can do better than basing our “facts” and inspiration on personal anecdotal “evidence.”

The hard things are doing the legwork and analyzing how are personal feelings about the issues of the day stack up against the facts, the apparent majority attitudes, and true win-win approaches to making things better. Neither rational democracy or rational writing are easy. Doing better might be more exciting than we think. Goodness knows, doing better is more effective than slinging insults and preaching to the choir.

–Malcolm

 

Yes, life can knock the words out of you.

“Point of all being – I stopped writing. What I had written when I returned to the page to rewrite I didn’t like. I didn’t feel like I was at that place anymore because I wasn’t. My life, my experience, my hopes, my dreams had changed. It took me awhile to stop lamenting and look forward.”

– River Jordan in Life Knocked the Words out of Me

I was happy to see author River Jordan’s post. While it was hard reading that life’s troubles had taken away her words for a time, it was wonderful seeing that she had fought back and had new words flowing across the page.

stormyweatherShe shared something a lot of authors won’t talk about: the fact that bad things can stop a writer from writing.

If the author of The Miracle of Mercy Land and The Gin Girl could be stopped in her tracks, than any of us could. A recent article in a writer’s magazine said we should write through our troubles. Perhaps there are times when we can. Gurus say that writing is a business and that we should write every day just as those who work 9-5 jobs go to work every day even when they’re feeling blue.

Writing every day is a crock of an idea for a writer to follow when s/he is down and out and finds the words have been knocked out of him or her.

Today is the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I saw it happen on TV. I hope the other writers who saw if in person or on television didn’t slog back to their dens and continue writing as usual. I felt the same way on 9/11. I was already at work when the horror began. None of us got a lot of work done that day.

Personal slings and arrows impact us, too. Deaths in the family. Sick spouses and friends. Lost pets. The best writers are, I think, very intuitive, often empathic, and so it is that their strengths become stumbling blocks in stormy times because the vibes/impressions/intuition are simply off or off the scale.

When writers share the fact that there are days when they cannot write and that there are days when they finally dredge up wht wherewithal to begin writing again, the rest of us feel stronger for knowing it.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of The Sun Singer which is free on Kindle January 28 and 29.

You want your book to sell, right?

“Whether you design your own book exterior and interior or are working with a professional, here are a few precepts that will guide you towards a better product, and thus more sales.

“Lesson Number One: Think of the Reader’s Experience”

Source: Design Your Book to Sell – Indies Unlimited

Gordon Long brings us a quick list of steps we must take to convert “my manuscript” into “the reader’s book.”

Yes, it’s been mine for a while, my words, my muse, my drafts and revisions, but once it gets on the shelf and/or on Amazon’s website. it’s no longer just “mine.” It’s a story told for the reader, a writing prompt for his or her imagination.

But first, s/he has to pick it up. With the advice in this Indies Unlimited post, you can make sure that happens.

–Malcolm

Without a sense of place, your story floats in limbo

“Place matters. That’s what so many people seem to have forgotten. Is it because they spend most of their time indoor or online–so that they’ve lost touch with their environment? Is it because every city contains the same neon-and-concrete gauntlet of Targets, Little Caesars, Subways and Great Clips–so that every place looks like every other place else?” – Benjamin  Percy, “Move Mountains, Activating Setting,” in “The Writer’s Chronicle.”

I wish every aspiring writer would read, study and discuss this article because–in my view–if they fail to deal actively with the places where their stories are set, they will forever remain aspiring and never emerging.

Percy says that some aspiring writers are vague about place–or perhaps, too lazy to consider it–because they want readers to think their stories and novels could have happened anywhere. I agree with Percy when he says, “huh?” Stories don’t happen in nowheresville; they happen at specific places, and if you handle them well, the reader will still see that those stories have universality running through them from start to finish.

There's a lot going in in this busy street scene from the style of the buildings, to the trees, to the people and their conversations. What a shame to miss it by not showing it to the reader.

There’s a lot going in in this busy street scene from the style of the buildings, to the trees, to the people and their conversations. What a shame to miss it by not showing it to the reader.

I noticed this article because I feel strongly about the statement “place matters.” Percy has done too good a job with this feature article for me to try an sum it up in a post. But here are two things that stand out–possibly not the two things he would pick, but so it goes:

  1. Never start a story with dialogue. Yes, that can work. Usually it doesn’t. Why not? Because the voices doing the talking aren’t anywhere–words out of the fog in no room or house or field or forest. When you do this, the reader is lost, and s/he remains lost until you finally deign to say where the conversation is happening.
  2. Place–in modern stories and novels–isn’t a dry recitation of facts. Some readers say they only scan descriptive text (especially in the older novels we were assigned to read in high school) because nothing’s happening. The way to “fix this” is to show movement, characters or natural phenomena, so that something is always happening there.

I’ve approached this in multiple ways in my Florida Folk Magic Series. People move through places, talk about places, fight strange weather in places, talk about the magic lurking in places, and live in places that look one way and not any other way and go about their day to day activities in a setting rather than on a blank slate. When people talk, they might be sitting on a sofa on the back porch, spitting tobacco juice into the back yard, listening to the creek or throwing things off the bridge over the creek. They exist in a place the reader comes to know well.

Percy quotes a favorite passage of mine from the Great Gatsby to show that the description of a place can have activity and movement, a style that’s certainly more interesting than saying a room had some chairs and windows in it:

“We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling—and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

“The only completed stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”

Okay, so may not like this novel or even this passage. I won’t try and convert you. But it shows movement rather than dry objects. You can do the same with a sex scene, a car chase, or a killer stalking his victim through an old house or a dense forest.

Food for thought, but for more of a full course meal, read the article or check out the fine writing books by Donald Maass, including Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Writing Exercises to Put the Instruction into Action.

–Malcolm

 

If you want to succeed at self-publishing, don’t be discouraged

“I strongly recommend resisting the urge to publish your first work as quickly as possible. Rather, proof it, reread it, get comments, proof it again, and devise a pre- and post-publishing marketing plan…Don’t be discouraged by rejection or settle for good-enough. In marketing-speak, make it the highest quality product you humanly can, and — with some doggedness and hard work on your part — the product will then sell itself.”

Source: Want to Succeed at Self-Publishing? Don’t Be Discouraged: Tips from an Indie Author

Ben Batchelder has certainly been there and done that even though writing wasn’t his first career.

I like his message partly because I hear a lot of indie authors talking about speeding things into print, getting as much stuff out there as possible, and–often–skipping the quality control side of the work.

What’s the rush, I often wonder.

–Malcolm

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Getting a good start: the first line

“All great authors know that a killer first line is almost more important than the first few pages, and authors put in hours of work just to get the right sentence on paper.”

– Mary Jane Hathaway

If you’re planning to plagiarize bits and pieces out of other people’s novels, stay away from the first line because if you find one that’s great, it’s probably on somebody’s list of first lines that are great. Even if people think your first line is great, it’s easy to Google it and see who–if anyone–wrote it before you wrote it.

As authors, we know we have to start our novels out with a bang. Some authors choose an explosion. Some authors choose sex. But far more authors figure out how to say something unexpected that also sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

A lot of us can think of great first lines. The trouble is, we can’t think of novels that go with them. Same is true with poetry, especially if you don’t usually write poetry. Sooner or later, those of us who write, will wake up and scribble down a perfect couplet. But then what? Usually, nothing. That’s all she wrote.

Since I don’t feel researching all the authors of my list of great lines to see whether they just wrote them or whether they spent years tinkering with them, I’ll say it’s better to just start your novel and get on with it rather than staring at a blank page or a blank screen waiting for an inspiring first line. That’s like “Waiting for Godot.” The line will never show up. So just forget about it and start writing. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can go back and see if your beginning not only sets the stage for the story, but hooks the reader.

There’s such a thing as being too cute and/or too clever with that first line. Once you have your darling line typed, can you keep up with it for another 40,000, 60,000 or 80,000 words? And if so, do you really want your entire novel to sound like that? For years, I’ve threatened to begin a novel with a line like: “Bob and Mary were killed while having unprotected sex when the tornado blew the condom billboard down on top of them.”

But then what? You’re right, nothing. I don’t know where to go with that, but if you do, feel free to use it as long as long as you list my name in your book’s acknowledgements as the “guiding force in my writing life.”

Having said all this, here are some of my favorites:

  • wintersnight“Congratulations. The fact that you’re reading this means you’ve taken one giant step closer to your next birthday.” – James Patterson, Maximum Ride, The Angel Experiment
  • “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”- James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
  • “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – George Orwell, 1984
  • “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” – Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
  • slaughterhousefive“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
  • “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer
  • “All this happened, more or less.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
  • “Elmer Gantry was drunk.” – Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry
  • “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” – Raphael Sabatini, Scaramouche

Some first lines stay with me for a long time, haunting me like ghosts while I’m reading the novels they began. What about you? Any favorites?

Malcolm

Aren’t you supposed to be writing right now?

Ernest Mendozza begins his Indies Unlimited post “Essential Apps for Procrastinating Writers” with a paragraph that attracted my attention because I am supposed to be writing right now rather than reading his post and creating a new post of my own to talk about his post. Here’s how he begins:

Someone once said, “Being a good writer is 3% talent 97% not being distracted by the internet.” Ain’t that the truth. Just while writing this introductory paragraph, I’ve checked my email three times, changed the music twice, and went to see when the next episode of Mr. Robot airs. And that’s not counting my Twitter habit.

He offers some advice and an application that just might help.

You know, when we work for somebody else, we’re expected to work during working hours. When we work for ourselves–as writers usually do–it’s easy to justify everything else but the actual work. No wonder nothing is getting done. Check out his post and see what you think.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “At Sea,” “The Sun Singer,” Sarbande,” “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” and a batch of Kindle short stories.

 

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