Friday, July 15, 2016

Raising the Right Stakes: Where Writers Go Awry

High stakes, more interest
In the 2001, literary agent and writing guru Donald Maass penned the must-have reference tool Writing the Breakout Novel. In Chapter 3, Maass begins:  “If there is one single principal that is central to making any story more powerful, it’s simply this: Raise the stakes.” But how does a writer know which stakes to raise? Raise the wrong ones, and you wander down the garden path not knowing how to return.

To know which stakes to raise take this example. Let’s say your protagonist’s dog dies. If you write mysteries, suspense or thrillers, or if you want to layer your work, the dog dies under mysterious circumstances. You can up the stakes by making the dog a onetime Westminster Kennel Club winner. Sounds great, right? Not necessarily. This route likely requires a protagonist of a certain socioeconomic class and for you to learn a lot about Westminster. Since it’s a big event with a big name, this plot option takes the reader toward a situation instead of the character, and character-driven plots resonate more with readers.

So what if the dog is a rescue whose owner is devastated because his beloved pet was saved from near certain doom only to meet her end under the pet owner’s roof, or in the yard, or up the street? In the Westminster scenario, the theme might be personal greed. In the second, any number of options could work, and the stakes are actually higher because they’re more personal than professional.

So if you’re wondering which stakes to raise journal the options to see where each would take you. That way you avoid good writerly intentions that could otherwise go awry.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Is Your Story a Novel or a Short?


Café in Trento, Italy
When a writer has an idea for a story, one question is: How do I know if the story is a novel or a short? To answer this question, consider scope. For a novel, the landscape is broad and deep enough to sustain a longer work. The storyline has enough plot points, or main events. The main characters evolve or devolve sufficiently. For a novel, you need more words and time to accomplish these goals. Writers then ask: Can’t I do the same in a short story? Yes, but a short is like abstract art; all the elements of a great work are there, but you do more with less. One way to tell the category of your work is to write a plot treatment. If you find that each idea generates more, you likely have a novel. For the consummate short story writer, see the work of Nobel laureate Alice Munro.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

For Writers of Dual Heritage: Explore the Experience of Returning

Readers with a dual heritage who know the pitfalls of returning to the place of one’s childhood and those who possess a love of eloquent story will find much of value in Alain Mabanckou’s The Lights of Pointe-Noire. A rich tapestry of past and present, Lights recounts Mabanckou’s return to his native Republic of the Congo where he visits the southeastern coastal town of his childhood.

See the full review at The Lights of Pointe-Noire: A Memoir. 


Saturday, April 2, 2016

April Read of the Month: Review of “The Feathered Bone”

The Feathered Bone, by New York Times bestselling author Julie Cantrell, fuses poetic voice and unwavering honesty in a haunting tale of worst fears come true, best intentions gone horribly wrong, and a freedom that brings hope beyond this life.

Set in New Orleans and rural Louisiana in the years involving the region’s most devastating storm, The Feathered Bone, Cantrell’s third novel, hurls its own tempests into the lives of its characters …

For the full review, see April Read of the Month: The Feathered Bone.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spring Connections for Writers

Don’t look now, but spring is just around the corner. Here is a fresh list of writers’ resources we hope will inspire you.

Call Me Ishmael: Do you have a beloved book and a story to go with it? If so, you might enjoy this delightful way to share both. Use the phone number on the website, and leave a voicemail about your book and its story. The stories are transcribed and shared weekly.

Hootsuite.com: This social media dashboard lets you manage multiple networks and profiles and measure results. Most plans are fee-based, but there is a free version. All allow you to measure your social media growth.

IngramSpark: IngramSpark is an online publishing tool that offers access to a vast distribution network for books and e-books. This is a fee-based service, but you can begin for free.

Internet Archive: This free library of millions of books, movies, software and music is especially useful for research and offers access to historical collections in digital format.

Literistic: Each month Literistic collects and emails submission deadlines for literary publications, contests and fellowships. The full service is fee-based, but the shortlist is free.

The Write Life: This site is one-stop shopping for the writer, with free articles, markets and news – and you can write for them, too.

Writers Write: Similar to The Write Life, this service offers free content for the writing community in the form of articles, markets and news.

Happy writing!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Story as Tapestry: Of Plot and Subplots

Most stories have the potential for more than one storyline or plot, and that can produce a rich tapestry as long as the threads are chosen well and woven properly.

A basic definition of plot is what happens in a story, or, more precisely, the main events. The bigger events, whose impact is usually on the main characters, form the main plot. The lesser events, whose impact is more on secondary characters, form the subplot, of which there may be more than one. When revising your story, one question to consider is: Does the subplot overshadow the plot?

If this is the case, the reason may lie in the strength, or lack thereof, of the main characters. If so, consider how to strengthen the main characters. If they’re right for the story as-is, look closer at the secondary characters. They may be more integral to the overall work than first appeared. If so, consider changing the balance of characters and storylines. Selecting new narrative threads can create an entirely new design.

Share your writing journey and queries on plot and subplot with Word for Words. Happy writing!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Writer's Voice of Experience

Stevenson Dam, CT
One key quality the agents and editors at last fall’s Ridgefield Writers Conference said they still thrill to find in a writer is voice. Voice can be defined in more than one way, but one description is how the writing sounds. It’s not just what the writer says but how she says it.

One factor that shapes a writer’s voice is her experience, not just those that are formative, but the ones that are transformative. This doesn’t necessarily mean the writer keeps rewriting her own story in different forms, although that’s sometimes true. It means that writers usually write best with their experience, thought not from it. But can voice be cultivated, or is it a gift?

Voice isn’t something that’s created so much as revealed, and nothing reveals it better than when the writer writes what she’s passionate about. Sometimes it takes a few paragraphs, pages, chapters or even an entire novel to unearth this discovery, but when you get there, you'll know it. The moment may come at a turning point in the story, through a simple setting description or even in a seemingly insignificant scene, but when you find your voice you’ll suddenly feel the story and characters come alive.

Share your queries on voice and your writing journey at Word for Words.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Great Resources for Writers

Boston at night
Here are some new resources and old favorites that have stood the test of time.

Atomic Reach: Based in Toronto, Atomic Reach for bloggers uses its specially designed technology to change how people tell stories. AtomicWriter adapts feedback based on the bloggers’ audience to help them craft great blog posts.

AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program: AWP's Writer to Writer matches emerging writers with published authors for three months. Writer to Writer is free for mentees. Mentors volunteer their time and get a free one-year membership. The program is for all AWP members, especially underrepresented writers who don’t have an MFA.

Connecticut Public Television (CPTV): Around for more than 50 years, CPTV offers opportunities for writers to publicize their work and propose programming. This is especially true of its respected and award-winning educational programming for audiences in Connecticut and beyond.

Catapult: This innovative publishing venture geared toward emerging writers includes print and e-book publishing, classes, online writing and a platform for writers to share work and better their craft. Catapult also supports established writers by sharing revenue from classes they teach and paying to publish their work online.

Vox First Person: Vox is a general interest news site that devotes a section of its site to personal narratives on key topics. If you have a great story on an important issue, you can pitch it to Vox First Person, which seeks stories from writers of every age, gender, race and political view. They even work with new writers who have an important story but need help turning it into a piece.

WordTango: WordTango is an online community by and for writers that provides a community of classes, events and online networking to share tips, stories and contacts. Happy writing!