Thursday, September 15, 2016

Writing Fiction: Story Goal

by Rebecca Talley  @rebeccatalley
Indie Author Hub Executive Committee Chair

The main character in a novel must have a goal. He must have something he works toward, something he desperately wants, and if he does not obtain that something his life will not be the same.

Every novel should have a story goal and that goal should be clearly stated for the reader. In my novel, Heaven Scent, Liza is the main character. Her father has become obsessed with his career and has seemingly abandoned his family. Liza desperately wants her father back in her life. She wants her family to be as it once was. Throughout the book, she works toward the goal of trying to restore her family to its once happy state. In the first chapter, Liza clearly states this goal and she continues to restate it throughout the book.

Readers need to know what the goal is and what’s at stake if the goal is not obtained. Without a clear story goal, the reader gets lost and never fully engages with the story.

To determine the story goal you need to know what it is that your character wants. A new job? A husband? A child? A new house? Fame? Riches?

Once you know what your character wants, you need to know why. Why is this goal so important? What’s the underlying reason the character wants this goal? In Recovering Charles by Jason Wright, the main character, Luke Millward, wants to reconcile with his father. His search to do so leads him to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Throughout the book, the reader wonders if Luke will be able to move beyond the past and repair his relationship with his father.

The story goal, or the desire to achieve it, propels the story forward. Without one, the story will flounder and finally fizzle. As a writer, you must be aware of the story goal and design smaller, scene goals that work toward the overall story goal.

Make sure your story has a clearly defined goal and you’ll not only have an easier time writing toward it, you’ll have readers anxious to read to the end to see if the character accomplished his goal.
~~~

Rebecca grew up next to the ocean in Santa Barbara, California. She spent her youth at the beach collecting sea shells and building sandcastles. She graduated from high school and left for college, where she met and married her sweetheart, Del.

Del and Rebecca are the sometimes frazzled, but always grateful, parents of ten wildly-creative and multi-talented children and the grandparents of the most adorable little girls in the universe.

After spending nineteen years in rural Colorado with horses, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, and donkeys, Rebecca and her family moved to a suburb of Houston, Texas, where she spends most of her time in the pool trying to avoid the heat and humidity. When she isn't in the pool, she loves to date her husband, play with her kids, swim in the ocean, redecorate her house, and dance to disco music while she cleans the house.

Rebecca has always loved to write and has authored novels, stories for print and online magazines, and children's books. She now focuses on writing romance because she believes everyone deserves their happily-ever-after.

You can find Rebecca on her website, her author page on FaceBook, and on Twitter at @rebeccatalley.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Keeping Track of Word Counts

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard
[Most of this post was previously published on The Ink Ladies Blog on August 21, 2010. It has been mildly edited for updates.]

I've been busy, believe it or not. As I drown in slip-sliding paper falling toward me and my fingers on the keyboard (most of which I could shred, once I extract the odd computer disk, wedding announcement, and hardback book from the pile), it occurs to me that I could share how I keep track of my word count as I write.

Now understand, this can be as complex or as simple as I want to make it. I can use the Excel chart my friend J. Scott Savage sent me several years ago that nags me incessantly, or I can add and subtract words as I write and edit, or I can keep a simple running tally at the beginning and the end of my writing day. I kind of like the simple style nowadays, so I'll tell you how that last thing works.

I love the 9.5 inch by 6 inch one-subject notebooks for this task. They're not so big as to be in the way, and not so small as to disappear amidst the rubble on my desk. I open it up and draw three equally-spaced lines down the page. This gives me two sections of columns to fill up.

In the left-most column, at the top, I put the date. I can put anything else in the nature of notes in that column, like the times I start and end, the scene or chapter I'm working on, and how many hours I work. I see I have a notation saying slippery elm bark and chamomile tea. Ha! I know what scene that one was!

The second column is where I put the beginning word count opposite the date. If I'm starting fresh, this is zero. If I want to, I can add the word count when I do a save, when I get up for lunch, or what-not (I usually only put down the last three digits, or hundreds). The last figure I put in that column is the final word count of the day, unless I want to do a total of words written underneath it. I finish the day with a horizontal line drawn under all the notes for the day, in both columns.

The other section of two columns is for when I get to the bottom of the page. You knew that, right?

How do you find your word count at the beginning and end of the writing period?

If you're writing your novel or other kind of piece in Word, click on the menu item called Review, then highlight all your text (Ctrl+A). In the far left section, look for Word Count. Click it, and you'll have a rough estimate of your words. I say "rough," because it will count every asterisk (*) and Chapter Heading, but it's good enough for starters. Do this again when you quit for the day, and you have the second count.

Actually, if you want an even simpler method, just look at the bottom of your Word document, on the left. If you have Word 2010 or newer, the word count is already there for you.

Or, you can use the software program I use. I bet some of you chimed in with "Scrivener," but no, what I use is similar but FREE! It's called yWriter5. It, too, gives me the total word count of the project at the bottom of the main window (as well as words written that day when I'm finished), so I check the word count when I begin and when I end, and put those numbers in my notebook at start and end of day. Actually, since I belong to a couple of accountability groups, I also note the total words written that day in my notebook so I can report.

yWriter5 and its antecedents were written by novelist and computer programmer Simon Haynes of Australia. He couldn't find a writing software that suited his needs, so he wrote it. He updates it quite often, sometimes to meet suggestions of users, but it's a lean program written to use few resources of your machine. It even runs off a flash drive, so it's highly portable.

You can find yWriter5 at http://www.spacejock.com (Hal Spacejock is the hero of Simon's futuristic sci-fi series). There are several other useful programs to be found there, as well as a link to the  how-to wiki created by the folks in the next paragraph.

This software is free, not only no-cost, but free of nasty surprises like virii, Trojan horses, and other malware. There's an active community of users in a Google group who support each other. The old hands answer the questions of the newbies, and Simon occasionally pops in, too.

I really like yWriter5, not only to keep track of my word count, but for ease of writing a scene at a time (which is about all my brain can fathom at one time).

How do you keep track of your word counts?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Are You Afraid to Write?

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

It's amazing how much fear can paralyze a writer right from the start. Let's take a look at some of the fearful reasons people don't write, even when they long to do so.
  • I'm afraid to write because I'll have to cut back on spending time with my friends, and they won't like me anymore.
  • I'm afraid to let anyone read my work because they might steal it.
  • I'm afraid to share in a writer's group because people might criticize my work.
  • I'm afraid to submit my work because it might be rejected.
  • I'm afraid to revise because I might get my work published.
  • I'm afraid to get published because I might be successful and have to change my life.
How interesting it is that a writer's fears begin and end with making life changes.

Frequently self-doubt, a scurrilous fear, attacks a writer--even a published one--and causes him or her great anxiety, even to the extent of threatening a promising career. I know of a writer who was so convinced that he/she could not write his/her way out of a paper bag that he/she got rid of every vestige of the writing life, including the latest manuscript from the computer. Fortunately, calmer heads overruled the faulty self-assessment, and he/she has gone on to much success.

How does a writer overcome these fears?

That's a big question, because every writer faces it. Writers are notorious for mood swings from the heights of arrogance to the depths of despair. How can he or she keep on a more even keel?

Here's a list of things that help other writers:
  • Listening to inspiring music
  • Reading affirmations each day
  • Hanging quotes above the computer monitor or in the writing space
  • Praying before writing
  • Lighting scented candles in the room
Another frequent suggestion for overcoming writer's fear is to face it head on and WRITE EVERY DAY, even if it's only 100 words. This method has the added plus of helping a writer overcome writer's block.

I used to think writing every day was a wonderful idea., but I've discovered over the years that I need breaks from writing constantly on a project. I don't mean taking breaks in the midst of writing on a project, but taking breaks between projects. Writing every day may be a great idea for you. For me, not so much. So in my writing life, I've amended the suggestion above to "write every day" to include the phrase "when you are in writing mode."

What do you do to conquer your writer's fear?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Author Earnings Report, Sneaky Money Grabs

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

March was going so good, with two posts, but April and May went by so quickly that it's now June. Sheesh.

Indie Authors have so much to watch out for: Money. It is coming in from sales of our products? Contracts: Are we aware of how things can go wrong, even in the Indie world of publishing?

Of course there are tons of other things to concern us, but since I have two blog posts from others that I want to spotlight, I'll go no farther on worries and concerns. Maybe later.

Some two years ago, an author named Hugh Howey and a number cruncher known only as "The Data Guy," teamed up "to gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions. Our secondary mission is to call for change within the publishing community for better pay and fairer terms in all contracts." Their website is called Author Earnings, and shines quite a light on money matters for not only Indie Authors, but the entire publishing industry.

The team has steadily produced quarterly reports of data they've gathered ever since. The May 2016 Report has just been released.

While it's true that I sometimes drown in all the numbers and graphs, I've learned that if I take it slow, digesting the information bit by bit, I understand it much better. I recommend the reports for your enlightenment.

What about contracts? Do we Indie Authors go, "Contracts? We don't need no stickin' contracts!" Huh? Do we? Probably.

We may not need contracts with agents or publishers, but do we sign audiobook contracts, contracts with cover designers or image vendors, contracts with editors, or contracts for box sets?

For several weeks, I've been following a series of blogs that Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been writing each Thursday about contracts, and why Indie Authors need to think about them and avoid certain pitfalls that should always be deal-breakers. She's not writing to Indie Authors alone. She's doing a stellar service for all writers, including new writers, who so often don't think much about the contents and clauses in a contract before they happily sign on the dotted line.

Here's a link to the entire series from the get-go. Scroll down to begin at the beginning. Put on protective clothing, as you may find yourself scared enough to ________ (you fill in the blank).

If you like Kris's advice, consider dropping some coins into the hat on your way out.

Thanks for reading!

Marsha Ward is the author of the acclaimed historical series "The Owen Family Saga" and other novels set in the 19th Century. See her website at marshaward.com


Friday, March 18, 2016

Do You Want to Be a Writer?

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard
I came across a great blog by Indie Author sensation Hugh Howey a couple of days ago. In it, he gives the secrets to success as a writer, which a lot of people won't follow because, yeah, they're hard.

Here's how he starts out:

Sitting in your underwear, hearing voices, talking to people who are not there, mumbling to yourself, Googling how to dispose of bodies and the firing rate of an uzi submachine gun. Assuming this sounds like the ideal life for you—and you don’t want to be certifiably crazy but only a little crazy—then the life of the professional writer is what you’re after. And I’m going to tell you how to make it happen.
Then he gives "the #1 secret to success and a career of working in your underwear: You have to work harder than anyone else. Period."

I'll list a few of his bullet points, but you'll have to go over and read the complete article to get the full flavor of the meal. And yes, he says a couple of words I don't use, but nowhere near as many as Chuck Wendig does. They both give great advice.
  • Make a long-term plan.
  • Reading.
  • Practice
  • Daydream.
  • Learn to fail.
And those are just the first five points. If you want to be a writer, go read these and the other five, with their explanations of how to implement them.

Then get to work!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, said the King of Siam

or so I'm told. Someday I'll get around to watching *that movie.

by Marsha Ward

From time to time, I'll see words misspelled in blog posts, or emails, or articles, or on Facebook, and every time, they make me cringe. Yes, I'm that much of a perfectionist. Lucky me.

One I'm seeing consistently is "ect." [sic].

I think the word, or rather, the abbreviation, is so often misspelled because very few people know anymore what the abbreviation stands for, and maybe folks don't have a clue how it is pronounced. They kind of know what it means, but not the rest of it. So much for teaching to the test.

Instinctive teacher that I am, I'm here to offer enlightenment.

First, the proper way to spell that word is "etc." Please note that there is always a period after it, even if it occurs in the middle of a sentence. **Yanno, like Dr. or Mrs.

Second, etc. is an abbreviation of the Latin words "et cetera." Please look closely. The first word is spelled e t. The second word begins with a c. That's where the abbreviation comes from: the first word plus the first letter of the second word.


etc.
et cetera

My handy Webster's New World Dictionary (always kept by my desk) gives this information: et cet-er-a [and says the accent is on "cet."] and others; and the like: abbrev. etc.

Now you will never forget how to correctly spell that abbreviation, because you will hear et cetera in your head every time you go to write it.

Have a wonderful day. And don't misspell etc. ever again. Thank you.


* The King and I
** (Miss Snark's way of saying "you know." Miss Snark is the blog pen name of the much-missed, albeit potty-mouthed agent who is no longer entertaining the masses.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules for Writers

We lost the brilliant American writer Elmore Leonard in August of 2013. I'm posting a bit of writing advice he gave us that has become almost as famous as he is.
~Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

Ten Rules for Writers

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is back story, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.


Great advice, Mr. Leonard. I'll keep it in mind as I tackle the beginning of another novel.