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?

Thursday’s Thoughts on #Writing ~ Whatcha #Reading?

Image result for reading memeI write mysteries. I enjoy reading mysteries. Therefore, logic would seem to dictate that I should read more mysteries to make my mystery writing better. Or should I?

Immersing yourself in your genre is a good thing. Except when it isn’t. It’s market research, it’s keeping up with the competition, it’s enjoyable. But maybe that isn’t always such a good thing.

Confused yet? Good. So am I.

See, I have this funny little issue. Call it a hang up, a theory, a sneaking suspicion, call it whatever you will, but it’s so deeply ingrained in my brain that I can’t seem to get around it. I believe that what you read influences what you write. Not necessarily a bad thing, except when it is. Image result for reading meme

You see, sometimes I read books with incredible plots, but less than stellar writing. Less often I read incredibly beautiful prose that seems to go nowhere in terms of plot. Just one beautifully worded sentence after another slowly circling the drain. I wouldn’t want my writing influenced too much by either of these examples, but I’m convinced that, unconsciously, it will. What you’re reading is reflected in your writing, and the last thing I want is for someone to read my work and tell me, “Hey, this is a lot like — fill in name of book I read while writing said work –.”

Image result for reading memeSo, while I’m actively writing a mystery novel, I do not read mystery novels. I’ll read non-fiction or classics or ‘modern literature’. From time to time I’ll even dip my toe in the pool of horror. And for a real treat, (because I tend to get itchy if reading starts to feel like work), I’ll read mystery short stories.

Short stories are fantastic for influencing different aspects of your story’s structure. Few full length books can keep up the suspense of a short story. They’re also Image result for reading memewritten ‘tighter’ – there’s not as much room for superfluous information. Short stories are also less likely to keep you (me) busy reading during writing time, and I personally  find the frequent payoffs (endings, climaxes, culminations, solutions), to be great confidence boosters. The only thing is that, occasionally, you’ll encounter a short story that is so strange, so weird, so disturbing, so innovative, that for whatever reason, it haunts you. Which is sometimes a wonderful thing. (I’m weird, I know.)

Then, it’s time to edit, and I go back to reading whatever I want!!!

How much thought do you put into what you’re reading while you write? Are you more careful about what you read when you’re writing, or editing?

Thursday’s Thoughts on #Writing ~ Facebook Follies

Aspiring writers are told to build their brand on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, LinkedIn . . . the list goes on and on, and, frankly, it’s exhausting. And overwhelming. Especially if you’re an introvert (stranger danger!).

Image result for facebook overload memeBut it’s a necessary evil, right? Everyone blogs about how important it is. There are even multiple websites that have been created to help ‘simplify’ managing your accounts and posts. So, if you want to be a successful writer, you have to be active on social media. I think I’m going to have to call BS on this one.

I’ll admit, I’ve never been too big on sharing. If you look at the news feed for my personal accounts, you won’t find what I eat for every meal or how I’m feeling every hour, or even any political rants. The truth is, I’m only in it for the cute animal videos and the funny memes, and even that isn’t enough to draw me in anymore. I’ve basically abandoned my personal Facebook account, and I couldn’t be happier. But if I don’t actively maintain my author page, does that mean I’ll have less success as a writer? I don’t think it does.

I enjoy interacting with people who enjoy the same articles, memes and pictures that I do, my fellow writers and readers. They are my people. I love it when someone visits my page and gives it a ‘like’, and I always return the ‘like’ when I’m messaged with a link to Image result for social media memestheir page. If us writers don’t support each other, then who will? But in all honesty (and this probably won’t gain me any popularity or ‘likes’), our time is probably better spent focusing on our craft than on social media. You can have a million ‘likes’, followers, comments, hits a day, what have you, but it means nothing if you don’t have a good product. And even with the apps and websites that ‘simplify’ and provide content for your posts, it still takes so much time. Too much time. Time better spent writing.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours building my social media platform and Waiting Skeleton memedeveloping my brand. I’ve met some great people and made some wonderful connections, but I’ve had an epiphany – I’m putting the cart before the horse. Yeah, I want to be prepared to take the publishing world by storm when the stars align and I have the agent and the book deal and the need to spread the word far and wide that people should read my book. But getting published is a lengthy process. It takes an average of two years between getting a book deal and the book being published and hitting stores. So, maybe there’s a little too much emphasis on social media. Maybe, it’s better not to spread yourself too thin. Or, maybe I’m wrong.

I imagine it’s a different story (no pun intended) for indie writers. Those warriors who brave the wild frontier of self-publishing, taking on all their own marketing, PR, and exposure. Which is probably why I’m so determined to go the traditional route, because I’m a(n) lazy introvert who’d rather write than deal with the business end of things. 😉

What do you think? How much time do you spend on social media? Personal versus ‘brand building’? How important do you think it is?

Oh yeah – feel free to connect with me on any of my platforms. I’m a shy girl – I like it when you make the first move!

 

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing ~ Pantsers vs. Plotters

When I start writing a piece of fiction, whether a short story or a novel, I’ll jot down a couple of things I’d like to include, maybe where I’d like to see a character or the journey end up, maybe just a character I’d like to work with, sometimes as little as a sentence I’d like to include, and start from there. Strangely, I tend to do a little more preparation for a short story than a novel. After all, in a short story, you have a finite amount of words in which to develop a complete plot. Image result for pantsers vs plotters

I am what you call a Pantser.

Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, going wherever the story takes them. This is in contrast to a Plotter, who will carefully develop their plot and timeline before beginning the story. Plotters have a much easier time writing a synopsis, as most of the work has already been done. Pantsers, in my opinion, have more fun. One has only to look at the number of memes already developed for this duel to know that this is an age old debate not likely to be settled. Image result for pantsers vs plotters

The truth is, I only want to write books that I would also want to read, and the books I absolutely LOVE reading are the ones that have twists and turns that completely take me by surprise. I’m sure there’s many a Plotter who plot fantastic twists and turns, but I don’t have enough time or energy for that. I figure that if I don’t know what’s going to happen, then there’s a better chance the reader won’t either.

Image result for pantsers vs plottersThat’s not to say that I don’t put any planning into what I write. I have a white board on which I write my suggestions for the next few chapters, and any ideas that come while I’m writing that I’m afraid I’ll forget. However, a white board can be easily erased – therefore, nothing I write on it is ‘in stone’, but rather points I may or may not touch upon, much like a speaker who uses only bullet points to develop their entire lecture.

Image result for pantsers vs plottersImagine my sheer delight when, 50,000 words into my WIP, everything’s on track and I have a pretty good idea where it’s headed, who the ‘perp’ is, etc., when out of nowhere, I realize I was wrong. What I’m putting on the page is leading up to an ending other than what I was expecting, something I hadn’t even considered, but which is so absolutely perfect, it left me positively giddy. I’m not arguing that Pantsing is better than Plotting, to each their own, but for me, surprising myself is one of the most rewarding parts of writing.

Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?