Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing – Crime Baked

New England Crime Bake

This past weekend I attended the 2018 New England Crime Bake, which was my first writing conference. For a while I’d been reading about how important it is to network with other writers for both support and to establish a writing community, so I decided to give it a try.

I met so many AMAZING people there that it was worth going for that experience alone!

scoreI also met the authors of these three fantastic books and got them signed, which was a major score because they are all wonderful, yet very different, stories, and I cherish the opportunity to let a writer know how much I enjoyed reading their book. The authors are absolutely awesome, too! How awesome? Let me count the ways. . .

Walter Mosley was the guest of honor of this year’s conference. The author of more than 40 book and a multiple award winner, he’s probably best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries, yet he contributes to many genres and writes for TV and film as well (ever heard of the series Snowfall?).

Mosley is hilarious, but he’s also a very insightful, eloquent speaker who doesn’t mince words when sharing his experiences in the publishing industry. If you get a chance to hear him speak, don’t miss it – you won’t regret it!

As both an agent and a writer, Munier considers herself a “storyteller and storyseller”. She is a huge animal lover, which is all I need to know to turn into a super fan! She is also incredibly nice and friendly, a very genuine person.

Her latest release, “A Borrowing of Bones”, was inspired by the “hero working dogs she met through MissionK9Rescue”. I really enjoyed the mystery and recommend you give it a try!

 

Image result for hank phillippi ryanHank Phillippi Ryan is a firecracker! So much energy and enthusiasm and with personality for days, Ryan knows how to keep an entire room enthralled! I took a master class with her at the conference, and she was definitely one of the major highlights of the weekend!

She may be best known for her day job as an investigative reporter who has won over 34 EMMYs and dozens of other awards, but she hasn’t done too shabby in the writing department. “Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, three Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne, and for The Other Woman, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award.” Her schedule is PACKED full of events for her latest release, “Trust Me”. This is an author that you have got to see for yourself! #TrustMe

Was it perfect? No. #CrimeBake wasn’t everything I had imagined or hoped for. I don’t feel like I learned very much, but as an event for both readers and writers, it wasn’t as instructive as conferences that focus exclusively on writing and craft development. (I learned that at the conference!)

I did, however, have a truly memorable and enjoyable time. Talking with other writers, hearing about their experiences, the other conferences and events that they had attended, was truly priceless.

Was it worth it? Yes!

Would I do it again? Absolutely!

The bottom line is that I was there to meet other writers, and that’s exactly what I did. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and most authors don’t get an agent or a publishing contract overnight. (While #CrimeBake does have a pitch option, I did not partake. This time.) To me, the important thing is that I took some time for myself and spent it immersed in my passion. What more can I ask for?!?!

 

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing ~ Introverts, Interaction, Networking & Community

Writers need to write.

It’s simple enough. Rather basic, really. No big surprise there. But when you look in greater detail at what successful writers do, there’s more to it than just writing (or writing well).

Writers need to network. They need a #WritingCommunity.

Image result for lone wolfWait. What? But aren’t we all shy? Lone wolves doing our own thing, fearful of leaving our safe writing spots and interaction and (gasp) conversation. With other people?!?!

I’m what you’d call a severe introvert. I wouldn’t say I’m shy, I’ve seemed to have outgrown that throughout the years, but I’m horrible at small talk. Bad at starting conversations with strangers. I’ve read that people like being asked questions about themselves, but I can’t seem to do that, either. Sometimes, when people ask me questions, it feels like the Inquisition. It seems cruel to do that to someone else.

Isn’t this the way you’re supposed to be as a writer?

Image result for writer's digest conventionThen what are all the conventions about? Big gatherings of people – who write – all across America, held for the purpose of meeting, talking, networking. How does this work, exactly? And how do we learn to step out of our comfort zone to join the chaos  nightmare  fun?

Are there enough writers who are extroverts? Do they carry the conversation for all of us, or are they the only ones getting networking done? I need a large dose of courage, stat!

Next month I’m attending my first conference. Just me and several hundred strangers. That’s not uncomfortable at all. Gulp. 😨

I’ve read up on what I’m supposed to do. I’ve checked Twitter to see who’s posting and what’s trending about the event. In this case, very little indeed. So there’s really no one to follow, no one to ‘pre-meet’ before the event from behind the safety of an electronic device, no way to integrate myself into a ‘social’ group beforehand. Unless I make it happen.

Twitter is the #1 recommendation I’ve seen for introverts trying to prepare for writer events. Since tweeting takes very little effort, I’m going to try building my ‘pack’, see if anyone connects with me if I try throwing myself out there. If anyone reading this is going to the 2018 New England Crime Bake, (and is not opposed to a little pre-conference convo), send me an email (AuthorShannonHollinger@gmail.com) or a message in the comment section below.

If anyone’s been to some of these events before, and has some advice, I’d love to hear it!

Image result for lone wolfIn the meantime, I’m researching members of the panel, familiarizing myself with everyone and everything that I  can so I don’t get struck mum and wind up regretting that I didn’t say a word to anyone the entire time. This lone wolf is ready for action, prepared for stranger danger and ready to say some words! (I think hope am!)

 

 

Writing with Emotional Power

One of the best lessons I’ve learned recently is that good writing is a form of manipulation. When an author manipulates the emotions of both their characters and their readers, the story resonates on a deeper level with the reader. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is an excellent resource if you want to learn how to make your writing connect with your readers on a more visceral level. Below are some of the notes I’ve made after reading the book:

28915986* Don’t just write about the emotions your character is experiencing, but about the experience they are having to endure. Make your reader experience their journey, too.

* Pay attention to the details; have your character ruminate about the big impact of small events or the easily overlooked ramifications of major plot twists.

* Your characters’ emotions have more impact when they have personal significance to your readers, something the reader can relate to and understand, which is much more impactful than just the ‘fact’ that your character feels a certain way.

* Have a character become aware of the meaning of something small and common and everyday that they ‘just now realize’.

* “Plot events are what happen. Inner moments give those events meaning. Together they both shelter and lead the reader somewhere new.” ~ Donald Maass

* Pacing involves emotion, not just plot. There need to be emotional shifts, fluctuations, and growth entwined with the story-line and action.

Image result for readre emotions * Stakes should be personal to your character. Increase the emotion by having your character choose between the morally correct choice and the choice that is better for them personally. Make your readers feel the angst of the conflict.

* Your protagonist should discover something unexpected about his/herself over the course of the story, an epiphany about something deep at their core that makes them who they are. They should change and evolve.

* All plot events can be opportunities to manipulate emotions. Use them.

Image result for writing* Make the reader take an active role and get their ‘wheels turning’ – make them develop their own insight into the character, make them consider a moral decision your character has to make, make them think about your character and the character’s choices . . . even when they aren’t reading.

* Characters with good values are more appealing. A character committed to justice, family, self-sacrifice or just ‘doing the right thing’ hooks readers better than a character after fame, fortune, or a self-serving agenda.

* Make your story more compelling by creating a sense of hope. Make your readers fear that the hope won’t be fulfilled.

* After writing your first draft, decide what hurt your protagonist most, then plant seeds throughout the story that suggest that they are particularly vulnerable to the source of that pain.

What I’ve taken away most is that in order to write compelling fiction, you need to find a way to develop a personal connection between your readers and your story and characters. When readers feel invested in the outcome, it becomes harder for them to put the book down. Give them something to root for, something to fear, and above all else, make them feel and care.

If you have any suggestions or tips you’d like to add, I’d love to hear them! 

Please introduce yourself and what you write if you feel so inclined . . . we’re all in this together and I consider you a member of my #writingcommunity! I look forward to connecting with you here and on social media, and am open to guest bloggers who’d like to share their knowledge or experiences!

 

 

 

 

Making the Connection: Investing Your Readers

Have you ever read a book that is well written, has an interesting premise, a solid plot with plenty of twists, yet it leaves you feeling either unsatisfied or it simply fades from memory as quickly as you read the words ‘The End’? Ever wonder how an author spun the magical web that left you thinking about a story days, weeks, months, even years after you finished reading the book?

The second is the kind of author I want to be. I want to haunt readers with my characters, I want to plague them with my plots, I want my words to linger in the recesses of their minds to revisit them again and again – in other words, I want my stories to be memorable. (It’a really not as creepy as it might sound, I promise!)

Question: How do you crack the code? How do you create a fictional world that captures your audience?

Answer: You create an emotional connection between your readers and the story, forging a bond that resonates at a deeper level than mere casual reading.

Image result for the emotional craft of fictionFor some writers, this may be instinctual, a natural click of the keys or flick of the pen. For the rest of us, it may take a bit more effort, in which case, The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is a priceless resource. This book illuminates the many ways in which you can make your readers care. Best of all, many of these tips can be used during the editing process to help flesh out scenes that lend themselves naturally to the different methods presented in this book.

I’ll be sharing some of my favorite quotes from this book over the next several months.

Do you have any recommendations for strengthening the connection between your readers and your writing? Any tips, tricks or tutorials you find useful? Sharing is caring, and caring creates community. I’d love for you to be a part of my #writerscommunity!!!

 

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing ~ What’s Your End Story?

Image result for writerWhat motivates writers? The urge to create, certainly. The need to share, possibly. But what, at the end of the story, do you hope to accomplish?

Some of us write just for ourselves, but most of us want our work to be read. So what is it that we hope to invoke in our readers? Thrills, chills, entertainment. An emotional connection, reassurance, enrichment. An epiphany, a life changing experience, words that touch the soul. Image result for Funny Author Memes

While we may have different motivations and goals for our stories, we share many stepping stones on the journey we take to get from the once upon a time to the end. Whether it’s a thriller with the fate of the world at stake, a romance with true love on the line, a mystery with lives in danger, or a single character’s internal struggle, there’s one thing that will keep your audience reading.

Readers need to feel personally invested in the story. Whether it’s in the destiny of the characters or the outcome of the story of the whole, if readers care, they’ll keep reading.

 

Image result for attached to book characters meme  The easiest way to invest a reader is with an emotional connection. Whether through a character who shares an experience that the reader can relate to, or even just the ambient feeling the writer creates through their story that the reader can get onboard with, such as hope, or the world becoming a better place, having something that your readers can identify with will help invest them in your story and keep them turning the pages. The trick is discovering what works for you.

How do you establish a connection with your readers? Is there a certain emotion you target? As a reader, what keeps you hooked?

Thursday’s Thoughts on #Writing ~ How’s the View?

Image result for point-of-view memeI just read a piece on why your story should have two narrators. Nowhere in the piece did it discuss anything about point-of-view, which seemed kind of strange to me, but I didn’t write it, so who am I to judge? While I can see the benefits of sharing multiple character’s points of view with readers, and actually do so rather frequently in my own writing, I also think care needs to be taken to ensure the reader knows whose thoughts they’re reading at all times. (We’ve probably all read books where the author shifts viewpoint so many times that it’s like being inside the head of an overachiever at a Dissociative Identity Disorder conference.)

Image result for going on an adventure memeAll the above being said, I also think it’s important to consider the type of point-of-view you use in your writing. The first time I read a book written in first person, I found it oddly uncomfortable at first. “I” was doing so much! But in time I came to like it, and it seems to be gaining popularity.

I’ve only written one or two short stories in second person, and I’ve found that, while reading stories written in second person, it’s really a big hit or miss for me. Either I really like it, or I hate it.

Image result for writer's point of view memeThird person limited seems to be the most commonly used form. It’s the good, old, safe, warm blanket of reading (or writing) from a character’s viewpoint without getting too intimate with the character too fast. We’re (readers) ‘watching’ more than ‘doing’. We know what the narrator wants us to know, little they don’t want us to know, and are left to draw our own conclusions.

Image result for chaos memeThird person omniscient would seem an easy solution to the ‘at least two narrators’ article I read, except that, as I said above, special care needs to be taken so that readers know what thought is attributed to what character. I get very frustrated when, as a reader, I have to read a sentence or paragraph multiple times to try to figure out which character’s viewpoint it is. I get even more frustrated when I still can’t figure it out after multiple readings – sometimes the author just doesn’t let you know, and while I can understand that sometimes this is done as a literary device to aid the plot, more times than not it’s just carelessness.

Then there’s unreliable narrators . . . I won’t get started on that. I’ll just say, when done properly, I enjoy it very much.

Image result for point-of-view memeWhat do you think? Do you think one point-of-view works better for different types of plots than others? Are you more comfortable writing (or reading) one type over the other? Have you noticed a trend in the point-of-view used that correlates to the amount of enjoyment or satisfaction you feel writing or reading? Does your work just instinctively choose one when you start writing, or do you try out different points-of-view until you find what works best for the piece? Inquiring minds want to know . . . 🙂

 

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing ~ The Long and the Short of It

Image result for short story writer memeI consider myself a novelist. My goal is to write (and publish) full length books. Yet, at the same time, I enjoy writing short stories from time to time. I think they’re great practice. Shorter pieces force you to create and develop a full plot over the course of a short timeline, which is great for learning to make every word count, as well as for perfecting pacing. As an added bonus, there are endless markets for short fiction, making it much easier to get published than full length novels.

 

Image result for purist meme

 

However, I’ve spoken with several other writers who think that you have to choose one form or the other and stick with it. They’re of the opinion that writing both long and short fiction will ‘sully the waters’. That in order to develop and perfect your craft, you need to have a narrow focus.

 

Image result for long story short memeMany well known, prolific writers pen both. Others started their careers writing one form, then changed to the other. At the end of the day, I’m going to do what I want and what feels right for me, but I admit, sometimes I wonder. When I’m working on a short story while I have an almost finished novel and endless edits waiting, I can’t help but fear that maybe the purists are right. Maybe I’m spreading myself too thin, or wasting time on one endeavor when I should be focused on the other.

So, I thought I’d see what you guys thought. Any strong opinions on the matter, or is it just one more needless thing to worry about? Who writes both and who focuses on only one form?

 

 

 

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing ~ To Genre, or Not to Genre?

Why is it that we feel the need to create labels? To pigeonhole people into tiny little boxes? How does that promote expanding one’s horizons and growth? It doesn’t.

Image result for funny genre memes

If you tell someone you write, they inevitably ask, “What do you write?” If you answer, “Fiction,” most people feel the need to delve deeper and ask, “What kind of fiction?” Why do I feel like I’m going to be judged by my answer? If I say I write mysteries or thrillers, does that make me less of a writer than someone who pens contemporary literature? If I respond with ‘psychological suspense’, does that mean I get taken more or less seriously than someone who writes romance? And what do we do with those zany authors who write chic lit, sci-fi and fantasy?  Where do they fit in on the totem pole?

It seems like there’s a fair amount of bias in terms of genre, and I don’t understand it one bit. At the end of the day, a book is entertainment. While the author may have lessons and messages and epiphanies they hope to convey and inspire, there are always going to be readers who gloss over the deeper meaning and read the novel simply as a form of escapism. (Now let’s judge the readers!!!)

books , readers, book readers, types of readers, funny, satire, hilarious, genre, books, book series, book authors

My point is, why should a writer have to choose? I’ve read plenty of literature with a mystery at its core, and I’ve read suspense novels that were beautifully written with language that gave me chills. Romance has dipped its finger in every pot. Part of being creative is exploring new horizons, trying new things. It should be encouraged.

There are authors who use a different pen name for each genre they write. There are some who use a pen name for their own amusement, and still others who, already having achieved a high degree of fame, use a pen name to see how a book will be received if critics don’t know it’s them (J.K. Rowling, Stephen King) that wrote it.

If you identify with a certain genre, shout it loud and proud. If you don’t, refuse to be put into that little box that society wants so badly for you to fit into. Either way, own it, and never feel like less of a creative force because of it.

 

 

 

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing ~ Doubt and Dogma

writingHow much does your mood affect what happens on the page? Will your readers be able to tell? Will your characters?

In the same vein, if you doubt what you’re doing, will it show?

If you approach your writing like you’ve already succeeded, will that confidence carry through to the reader, inspiring their confidence in the words you’ve committed to the page?

writing1Do ‘good’ people write better books than ‘bad’ people. If your intent is to uplift and inspire, does that make your work better than a writer whose goal is to entertain?

Am I pushing the realm of reality too far? Am I not pushing far enough? Is the story too unbelievable, too mundane, too wild, too boring, too emotional, not emotional enough? And who decides all this?

I’m taking my power back as a writer, casting off the fear and doubt, and ridding myself of inhibitions. What’s the worst that can happen?

They (the ‘professionals’ who dole out writerly advice) say you have to know the rules before you break them. They say to write what you know. This is spouted so universally, that it’s pretty much dogma. (dog·ma  noun  ~ A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.) I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve heard/read/been taught this. writing 2

But if that’s so, if this is really true, then are sci-fi writers aliens? Are historical fiction writers time travelers? Are thriller writers spies and mystery writers murderers?

Everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. There is no universal truth in any form of art. We each need to decide what works for us. In essence, we need to make our own rules. Then, if we want, we can decide to break them. We need to be courageous and and maybe a little crazy and have some fun.

eecummingsHave you ever seen a poem by e.e. cummings with perfect punctuation and grammar? But it worked for him, right? He’s still remembered for it today. And, as a very cool side note, which I just discovered while writing this, he died at the hospital in the town I currently live in. I never would have known if I hadn’t decided to shirk convention and create my own rules, which led to me googling the first name that popped to mind as an example of a successful professional who did the same, which I choose to interpret as kismet. I must me on the right write track!

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing ~ Classes, Conferences and Critiques, Oh My!

Image result for writing classMost of us have done it. We’re encouraged to do it. But when weighing the benefits against the costs (time as well as money), I can’t help but wonder – is it worth it?

I’ve taken more than my fair share of creative writing courses. There was a time when I would pour over the catalogue of whatever community college I lived near at the time, fingers crossed that there’d be some writing classes that I could audit. Then, the classes somehow devolved into a hot mess of Image result for angry writersomething stinky that I felt the need to distance myself from, the seats no longer filled with aspiring writers, but students looking for an easy A and a place to show off, each piece they submitted an attempt to one-up the other students by being sillier, grosser, more absurd.

I briefly researched MFAs in Creative Writing, then settled on taking classes at UC Berkeley’s Writing Extension. Yet, at semester’s end, I really didn’t feel like I was gaining much for the time I spent doing what felt a lot like busy work.

Image result for writer critique memeI started a writer’s group. Except for a couple of egos, I found this to be much more beneficial than anything I had previously tried. Sitting around a table, discussing each other’s work, getting an actual critique and helpful suggestions, I feel like my writing gained depth and insight. Then I moved.

I considered starting another writing group, but the first took so much time and effort to get off the ground, that I held off. I concentrated on finding beta readers for my novel, instead. That resulted in some ego building, but other than a discussion over the proper way to type an em dash, very little constructive criticism.

Image result for proud mama klump hercules clapWhich brings me to where I am now. My mom, who I consider to be a very talented writer, reads my work before I submit it, but she’s my mom – she has only positive things to say. I fear my skin is growing thin. I need someone who isn’t afraid to use their paring knife on my work. Yet, at the same time, I’d rather avoid the critics who hate everything other than spreading misery.

Image result for floggingI’ve been looking at the half dozen writing conference and critique emails that I receive every day. “Get your query critiqued by an agent.” “Learn what agents look for.” “Get an impartial critique of your work (for a price).”

My question is, does any of this work? Surely a well-known platform such as Writer’s Digest provides reputable services. But is it what I’m looking for? What am I looking for? I only know half the time, and even then, I’m not quite sure.

So, I pose the question to you, my fellow writers. Who has tried what, and how did you feel about the experience? What did you find beneficial, and what made you want to give someone a fatal papercut with your manuscript? Has anyone paid for critique services? Attended conferences? Tried to use your paper copy as a ninja star?