Mar 172014
 
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By Elizabeth Coldwell

Writers are constantly bombarded with advice, much of it about marketing, promo and developing an online presence—to the extent that it can become difficult to focus on the thing they actually love: the writing itself (and if you’re not writing because you love it, then why are you doing it?) But here are three pieces of advice I feel all writers, whether published or not, need to hear more often.

 

1) You Don’t Have to be Writing all the Time

This probably goes counter to what you’ve always been told, that you’re not a writer unless you’re writing, and that someone who wants to be successful and improve their craft should be devoting every possible moment to putting words down on paper. That’s all well and good, but the danger is that you end up writing for the sake of it, in order to meet some self-imposed deadline in the rush to get the next book on the virtual shelves. And events such as NaNoWriMo, which encourage people to meet a certain word count in a certain time, can end up promoting the concept of quantity over quality. Sometimes it’s better to wrestle over 100 good words than churn out 1000 that will be deleted when you read them back, and forcing yourself to keep writing on those days when the words aren’t flowing can be counter-productive to your art. On those days, it’s better to go for a walk, listen to music, or spring clean the house. Recharge your batteries, and don’t let yourself feel like a failure if you’re not continuously bashing out story after story.

 

2) Reviews Don’t Matter

Of course good reviews can make a difference to your book’s reception, as can that endorsement from Oprah or the Richard and Judy Book Club. Before the ubiquity of the internet, reviews were harder to come by—a magazine or newspaper would only have space to mention a handful of books a month, and often only the biggest publishing houses had their product featured—but now you can offer your book to dozens of review blogs, and decorate your own site with the buttons and whizzo graphics they provide if you’re a top pick. But reviews can also be penned by people who may not even have read your book, routinely handing out one and two stars on Goodreads because they don’t approve of women writing male/male fiction, or whatever their particular bugbear may be. Don’t obsess over—or respond to—anonymous criticism of your book. Never forget that one reviewer’s opinion is only that, and don’t send out books for review expecting (or even requesting—yes, it does happen) only four- and five-star reviews in return. You are more than your Amazon sales rank.

 

3) Edits Are a Necessary Evil

I’ve yet to meet an author who genuinely enjoys the process of going through edits. Sometimes, it’s hard not to believe the “track changes” function was designed purely to cross out half your novel, or allow final line editors to make nit-picky queries about hyphenated words. Some editors, it’s true, are almost fanatical about excising what they see as every last extraneous “that”, “was”, or “she” from a piece of text, or seem devoted to removing the adverb from the English language. But, at heart, they all want to present your work in the best light, and even as you curse them beneath your breath, you may discover when you’ve gone through the dreaded edits that your work is sharper, less repetitive—and those typos you didn’t notice, even though you thought you’d polished your work to a sheen, have been removed. That, of course, doesn’t mean you should blithely accept every last change (if you’re a US author being edited by someone in the UK, or vice versa, there will often be legitimate points of language and grammar to argue over), but even though it not may seem like it sometimes, editors are your friend, not your enemy.

 

Elizabeth Coldwell is Editor-in-chief at Xcite Books, where the titles she has edited include the National Leather Award-winning anthology, Lipstick Lovers. As an author, she has 25 years’ experience in the field of erotica, having been published by Black Lace, Cleis Press, Sizzler Editions, Total-e-bound and Xcite Books among many others. She can be found blogging at The (Really) Naughty Corner – elizabethcoldwell.wordpress.com.

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Feb 272014
 
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My name is Chris – though my pseudonym is usually M.Christian – and I have a confession to make.

I’ve written – and write – a…what’s the technical term? Oh, yeah: shitload of erotica. Some 400 published stories, 12 or so collections, 7 novels. I’ve also edited around 25 anthologies. I even have the honor of being an Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, whose Sizzler Editions erotica imprint has some 1,300 titles out there.

I’ve written sexually explicit gay stories, lesbian stories, trans stories, bisexual stories, BDSM stories, tales exploring just about every kind of fetish, you name it and I can all but guarantee that I’ve written about it. I like to joke that a friend of mine challenged me to write a story to a ridiculously particular specification: a queer vampire sport tale. My answer? “Casey, The Bat.” Which I actually did write…though I dropped the vampire part of it.

Don’t worry; I’m getting to the point. I can write just about anything for anyone – but here comes the confession:

I’ve never, ever written about what actually turns me – what turns Chris – on.

This kind of makes me a rather rare beast in the world of professional smut writing. In fact it’s pretty common for other erotica writers to – to be polite about it – look down their noses at the fact that I write about anything other than my own actual or desired sexual peccadilloes. Some have even been outright rude about it: claiming that I’m somehow insulting to their interests and/or orientations and shouldn’t write anything except what I am and what I like.

To be honest, in moments of self-doubt I have thought the very same thing. Am I profiting off the sexuality of other people? Am I a parasite, too cowardly to put my own kinks and passions out into the world? Am I short-changing myself as a writer by refusing to put myself out there?

For the record, I’m a hetero guy who – mostly – likes sexually dominant women. I also find my head turned pretty quickly when a large, curvy woman walks by. That said, I’ve had wonderful times with women of every size, shape, ethnicity, and interest.

So why do I find it so hard to say all that in my writing? The question has been bugging me for a while, so I put on my thinking cap. Part of the answer, I’ve come to understand, relates directly to chronic depression: it’s much less of an emotional gamble to hide behind a curtain of story than to risk getting my own intimate desires and passions stomped flat by a critical review or other negative reaction from readers. I can handle critical reviews of a story – that’s par for the course in professional writing – but it’s a good question as to whether I could handle critical reviews of my life.

But then I had an eye-opening revelation. As I said, I’ve written – and write – stories about all kinds of interests, inclinations, passions, orientations, genders, ethnicities, ages, cultures…okay, I won’t belabor it. But the point is that I’ve also been extremely blessed to have sold everything I’ve ever written. Not only that, but I’ve had beautiful compliments from people saying my work has touched them and that they never, ever, would have realized that the desires of the story’s narrator and those of the writer weren’t one and the same.

Which, in a nice little turn-around, leads me to say that my name is Chris – though my pseudonym is usually M.Christian – and I have yet another confession to make.

Yes, I don’t get sexually excited when I write. Yes, I have never written about what turns me on. Yes, I always write under a name that’s not my legal one.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel when I write. Far from it: absolutely, I have no idea what actual gay sex is like for the participants; positively, I have not an inkling of what many fetishes feel like inside the minds of those who have them; definitely, I have no clue what it’s like to have sex as a woman…

I do, however, know what sex is like. The mechanics, yeah, but more importantly I work very hard to understand the emotions of sex and sexuality through the raw examination of my own life: the heart-racing nerves, the whispering self-doubts, the pulse-pounding tremors of hope, the bittersweetness of it, the bliss, the sorrows and the warmth of it, the dreams and memories…

I’m working on a story right now, part of a new collection. It’s erotic – duh – but it’s also about hope, redemption, change, and acceptance. I have no experience with the kind of physical sex that takes place in this story but every time I close its file after a few hours of work, tears are burning my cheeks. In part, this emotional investment is about trying to recapture the transcendent joy I’ve felt reading the work of writers I admire.

When I read manuscripts as an anthology editor, or as an Associate Publisher, a common mistake I see in them is a dedication to technical accuracy favored over emotion. These stories are correct down to the smallest detail – either because they were written from life or from an exactingly fact-checked sexual imagination – but at the end, I as the reader feel…nothing.

I’m not perfect – far from it – but while I may lack direct experience in a lot of what I write, I do work very, very hard to put real human depth into whatever I do. I may not take the superficial risk of putting the mechanics of my sexuality into stories and books but I take a greater chance by using the full range of my emotional life in everything I create.

I freely admit that I don’t write about my own sexual interests and experiences. That may – in some people’s minds – disqualify me from being what they consider an “honest” erotica writer, but after much work and introspection I contest that while I may keep my sex life to myself, I work very hard to bring as much of my own, deeply personal, self to bear upon each story as I can.

They say that confession is good for the soul. But I humbly wish to add to that while confession is fine and dandy, trying to touch people – beyond their sex organs – is ever better…for your own soul as well as the souls of anyone reading your work.

 

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Feb 132014
 
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By Dr. Amy Marsh

As a writer and in my career as a sexologist, the situations I find most personally challenging are the “hurry up and wait” experiences. These are usually the times when I’ve found myself courted (often out of the blue), urged to produce something which will be published or presented in what appears to be a desirable forum, and then once I meet the deadline—nothing. Time and again I’ve experienced a flurry of communication designed to elicit my favorable responses—plus a solid piece of work—and then, somehow, there are no longer any reciprocal exchanges from the person or persons who so avidly sought my acquaintance and professional expertise. Even brief, patient emails a month or two later may go unanswered. Phone calls are not returned. The publication dates, or other matters which have an impact on me and my ability to strategize, bootstrap, and promote, are simply left dangling. And I am left to twist in the wind.

Have I been dumped after putting out? Am I just another notch on an interviewer’s belt or a social media website? Or has a cascade of life crises interrupted the process and the reporter, publisher, or agency representative really will get back to me as soon as the carnage clears?

Sure, “sh*t happens,” but why does it so often happen after I’ve turned in a piece of work?

It’s very hard to know what to do in this case. Do I “squeaky wheel” it, become annoying and persistent in a way that is frankly foreign to my socialization and inclination? Or do I assume a Zen-like exterior of uber-professionalism while patching up my slightly shredded self esteem in private? Or is it just that people have lost the art and etiquette of following up?

Writers need aftercare and check-ins, too! It’s not just for BDSM anymore!

Perhaps there should be a self-help book titled Writers who Write Too Much… and the People who Exploit Them. If there were such a book, I’d be most interested in learning how to keep my sense of plucky optimism while still waiting for all those blogs, books, and other promised projects to come to fruition. I’d like to learn how to professionally and constructively convey my desire to know publication dates and other key pieces of information, and to be informed about delays in a timely manner, so that I can—you know—twitter and blog and facebook about it. In other words, do my share of promoting the whatever-it-is, which usually also includes promoting and boosting the company, website, or whoever is hosting the whatever-it-is…

Did I mention that much of what I’m talking about are writing projects almost entirely done on spec? Sometimes with a promise of a modest bit of change coming along later (always welcome in my pre-divorce world)? Did I mention that it’s awfully hard to know just how to separate the truly wonderful opportunities, chances to collaborate with people who have struck my fancy as creative, marvelous individuals, from those who are simply out for as much free content as they can get? And instead of choosing me for my expertise, do some people see me as a reliable fallback because they think I’ve got nothing much else going on?

I have been operating on the assumption that acting professionally would elicit professionalism in return. Sometimes it does. A couple of writers interviewing me for books actually do send me a copies when they are published. On the other hand, that New York writer who wanted a free session in order to write about it has yet to communicate clearly about when his article is appearing in that hip, happening fashion site. And there are other matters left hanging out there, ones which baffle me in strange, painful sort of way.

To redeem this blog post as something other than my own personal lamentations and frustrations, here are a few cautionary words:

1) Don’t count on, or wait for, the publication of an interview to handily coincide with your self-promotional efforts. Occasionally an interview will come out just at the right time, and you can use it to promote your classes or create more buzz about your book—the operative word here is “occasionally”; even if the interviewing party has promised its publication by a certain date, don’t build your marketing or other schedules around that interview ahead of time. Create several different promotion strategies for your projects so that when the promised article fails to appear, you won’t be crushed or left without options.

2) Remember that everyone is far too involved in pushing their own agenda and advancing their careers to focus too keenly, or sometimes even care, about yours. Even people working in good faith will often have so much on their plate that memory lapses and communication gaps are an inevitable part of the process. Find a way to accept that gracefully, and again, create a few different strategies for dealing with situations on a case-by-case basis.

3) If you are able, try to find out as many details as possible before committing to create content, especially for people and organizations you don’t yet know and trust. Not every opportunity is a good opportunity; if someone wants a large chunk of your time for free, you may be better off investing that time elsewhere.

4) If you haven’t seen a response two weeks after emailing or phoning the person who courted you, you’ve probably been dumped or the project has been shelved. Pick yourself up and move on. Be civil if they actually do get back in touch at a later date. Any delays may not have been their fault. Maybe there really were extenuating circumstances.

5) Don’t become obsessive about checking the places where you think your interview or work may still be published. Just do it every now and then, and then forget about it (or try your best to forget about it).

There are probably harsh industry realities which exacerbate these problems for writers and other creators of content. And we—being on the outside—may never know what they are. All we can do is carry on, stay fresh and frosty, and above all, never become excited about something that looks like a big break. It’s probably no such thing, and you may be better off looking for the little breaks to be found with trusted professionals.

 

—Amy Marsh

 

Amy Marsh, EdD, DHS, CH, CI, is a clinical sexologist and AASECT certified sex counselor, certified hypnotist and hypnosis instructor, and an associate professor of human sexuality at the world’s most radical sex school. She is a former Carnal Nation columnist. Learn more at dramymarshsexologist.com or follow @AmyMarshSexDr on Twitter.

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Jan 242014
 
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By Elizabeth Coldwell

Many writers will say that the hardest part of writing an erotic story is the ending. Because the aim of the genre is to arouse the reader as well as entertain them, the climax you should be building to is …er, the climax. When the sex ends, so—in the majority of cases—does the story. However, as a writer you may have the urge to round off the action in some more organic way. One of the most common ways to do this, if the characters have just had their first sexual encounter with each other, is to suggest that their climax was only the beginning, and that there’ll be more sex to come, either that night or at some point in the future.

However, another type of rounding off beloved by writers in all genres of fiction is the twist ending. Think of horror stories where a character thought dead literally returns from the grave at the end of the tale, or the many detective novels penned by Agatha Christie and her ilk where the murderer is revealed to be the very last person you expected. Twist endings to short stories have always been popular, but they had a real resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s. First, many of Roald Dahl’s most macabre stories were televised in the series Tales of the Unexpected, then a number of new women’s weekly magazines appeared, particularly Best and Bella in the UK, all of which featured a one-page story with a sting in its tail. The twists in these magazine tales grew ever more bizarre, many of the stories having a narrator who appeared to be a human until the ending revealed they were actually a household pet or even some inanimate piece of furniture.

Naturally, this trend found its way into erotic fiction—in my time as editor of Erotic Stories, I published a short story in which the BDSM action appeared to be described by the slave of a dominant mistress, chained and compelled to watch as a punishment was dished out to someone else. Only at the very end did this slave turn out to be the domina’s pet dog. As a one-off, that idea worked very well, but if every story in that issue of the magazine had had a twist, its impact would certainly have been lessened.

Some twists can ensure the story remains in the memory long after it otherwise might, but they can also risk jolting the reader out of the erotic, sensual mood you’ve worked hard to create. The wrong kind of twist can even leave them feeling slightly cheated. Whole novels have been written building up to a “shock” twist ending where, for example, the narrator turns out to be a different gender than the one the reader had assumed—and while there’s a high level of skill required to pull this gimmick off, that’s ultimately what it can seem like to the reader: a gimmick.

So do you always need a clever or surprising ending to a story? That depends. Some plots almost demand it, particularly if you’re mixing erotica with horror or suspense, but if you’re writing in the true confessions/readers’ letters style, then by definition you’re looking to get from point A to point B in the most straightforward way you can. And if you want to keep your work fresh and original, here are some surprise endings you might want to use vary sparingly:

It was All a Dream
Yes, this old chestnut still pops up in submissions piles everywhere, often with the coda that some element of the dream has found its way into the real world, like a feather that was used on the heroine, and which is lying on her pillow when she wakes. Leave this one to your school essays.

It was All a Setup
You know the score here. A master gives his submissive a spanking for flagrant misbehavior, or a woman walks in to find her boyfriend in bed with their best friend and is shocked at first, then so aroused she has to stay and watch the couple in action. The twist, of course, is that in both cases the situation has been engineered so that the naughty sub and the curious voyeuse get exactly what they wanted all along.

The Stranger was Familiar
A man is on his way to a job interview, when he’s distracted by a sexy woman flashing her panties on public transport and they find time for a quickie. A married woman in a hotel bar takes a risk and chats up the sexy man on the next barstool, ending up in his room for a passionate romp. Guess what? When the protagonist in the first scenario finally makes it to the interview, the woman conducting it is the panty-flasher, and the supposed adulteress in the second is just acting out a fantasy and the man she’s coming on to is her husband.

He was…a Vampire!
This one really needs no more explanation, but if you’re submitting to one of the many anthologies of vampire short stories that are published every year, come up with a more substantial storyline for your readers to sink their teeth into…

 

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Jan 112014
 
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By Jan Graham

There’s an old saying my grandmother used to use: a change is as good as a holiday. I’m not so sure about the truth in that statement at the moment because I’m on a holiday vacation and trying to write. It’s not really working for me.

I’m not sure what it is; perhaps the change of location, not being at my desk where I’ve trained myself to sit for hours each day and work or maybe it’s just to quiet here, surrounded by the sounds of nature rather than inner-city horn honking and hustle and bustle. The thing is, I’ve always told myself it would be easier to write if I didn’t have the city’s background noise distracting me, which seems to be a fallacy as well.

My choice of destination seemed perfect. I’m staying in a lovely home in the picturesque Blue Mountains of Australia. It’s quiet and serene, and the only noise throughout the day is the chattering of native birds. I had viewed my time away as more of a writing retreat than the traditional sight-seeing getaway a person imagines a vacation to be—and after five days away, that’s not proving to be the case.

I keep telling myself that taking time out to relax and do nothing is a good thing. I mean, we can’t write continually, at some point we need a break or we burn out. I’ve noticed, though, that I feel guilty not writing. This thought has been weighing heavily on my mind and I’ve started to ask myself why? Anyone in a regular job gets holiday leave, and I know from experience that when I had what’s often referred to as the evil-day-job, I didn’t experience any angst while taking time off. I never worried about the work piling up on my desk or whether I should go back to the office because I had work to do. So why should it be any different now that I write full-time?

It amazed me how many authors in writers’ forums and facebook groups commented, over the Christmas/New Year break, that it was difficult to make time to write amid family celebrations, travel, even vacations from evil-day-jobs which had seemed so promising with their string of relatively uninterrupted days. The challenge of writing during what might otherwise be considered “break time” appears to be a widespread phenomenon in the world of authors.

So it’s time to share the lesson I appear to be learning while tucked away in my mountain retreat:

I need to be nice to myself. I need time out to just chill and do the things I enjoy, like sitting in a comfy chair and reading or lying on the couch listening to music or watching movies. I’ve been taking long walks, experiencing my new environment, going out and meeting new people as well as catching up with friends I haven’t seen for ages. I don’t do those things at home. I try to tell myself I do but, in fact, taking time out for me is a rare occurrence. I sit and write, I occasionally go and visit with friends, but my main objective is to stay at home and work. I refuse initiations to social activities with the excuse that I’m working. Thinking about it now, I work seven days a week, with little time to experience everything else life has to offer. Even if I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it. I’m plotting, I’m promoting my work or I’m blogging. Most of what I do at home involves my work.

I really have turned into a boring creature ☺

The search for balance is an ongoing theme in my blog posts—balance between work, social media and publicity, focused writing and exploratory writing. That’s all well and good, but I need to add “kindness to myself” into the mix. I’m confident that if I do, in the end, it will only make me a better writer. Here’s why:

Inspiration for my writing often comes from meeting new people. I don’t write books about the people I meet or know, but interacting with others helps me with character development and many other areas of my story telling. Socializing offers a perspective that’s different from my own—and when you have multiple characters in books, you need multiple perspectives. I write contemporary erotic romance, so staying in touch with what’s happening in the world, what people think about current issues and what’s trending in society all add to the authenticity of my work. By locking myself away, I’m doing a disservice to myself and to my readers.

Having said that, time alone to do the quiet, solitary things I enjoy also gives me a writing advantage. If I’ve taken time out to be alone for a while, I’m more relaxed when I go back to the keyboard to work. If I spend that time reading, for example, I get to see the construction of a story from another author’s perspective. We all have a different voice when we write, and there’s an advantage to reading work written in a voice other than your own—again, it’s a new perspective.

The other thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been away is that taking time out gives me a physical advantage. At home, even with a carefully selected ergonomic desk, chair, keyboard, you name it…I often collapse into bed at night with parts of my body aching, I’m always readjusting my position as the day progresses, trying to ease an ache in my neck or arm. Over the last five days, I haven’t been plagued with sore shoulder and neck muscles, or aching wrists from constantly tapping away at the keyboard. At home my eyes often feel dry and sore—but here, they aren’t; I’ve given them a break from staring at a screen all day. Dare I say it…my body feels relaxed.

I don’t believe in New Year resolutions but I do believe in setting goals to improve your life, no matter what time of year it is. So my goal for 2014 is a simple one: aim to achieve balance in all things—not just a balanced work life, but a balanced life.

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Jan 032014
 
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By Marissa St. James

 

If you’ve chosen writing as a possible career, be prepared to be constantly challenged. Some challenges will be frustrating, and try your patience, but if this is what you really want to do, then the majority of the challenges you’ll face can only help you improve your craft. There’s a great deal to be learned about this medium of communication; in fact, you should never stop learning. The best thing you can do is read as much as you can. Mysteries, romance, science fiction…the genre doesn’t really matter. The goal is to read for pleasure—and while you’re at it, you’ll be learning a great deal about writing. You’d be surprised by the things you can pick up when you least expect to.

It’s also a good idea to invest in books on writing. Most books deal with the elements of building a story: character profiles, dialogue, point of view, setting, plotting, etc. Fewer of them address the technical side of writing—grammar, spelling, and punctuation—besides the usual reminders to check for typos. I do touch briefly on a couple of elements many writers have a hard time with in my book, Doing it Write: Putting the Final Polish on Your Manuscript.

This column deals with these technical aspects of writing. While it’s meant to be a guide for a final polishing, it can also be used to avoid mistakes while you’re writing—you don’t have to wait until your story is finished. My philosophy as an editor has always been to help a writer make their work the best it can be. I’ll be the first to admit I can be a very picky editor, but in the long run it’s paid off for others. I hope this information will help you as well.

 

Every story is made up of sentences, each one leading into the next. Sentences convey thoughts, and to be understood, every thought should be well constructed. Sentences convey action, emotion, detail and direct/indirect thought. They can be narrative or dialogue. We can express ourselves through our characters, breathing life into them.

Sometimes we’re in a hurry to write down our thoughts before they vanish into oblivion. This is when we forget about structure—and that’s okay, because once you lose that great sentence in your head, it’s gone forever. Your first draft is meant to get down all your ideas in some sort of logical order. The second draft is for making improvements, corrections and additions. A final draft is for polishing and refining. We’re going to deal with the second and final drafts, assuming your work will be done in three versions.

If you make a habit of writing proper grammar to start, it’ll cut down on the time you need to find and correct errors and typos. Such a habit is hard to establish since we tend to write the way we speak—but once enforced, you’ll find writing comes much easier to you.

One word of caution here… When you go over your manuscript, be careful not to over-edit. Too many writers end up editing their work to death. The final product may end up nothing like what you originally started out with.

To begin with basics, sentences usually come in three forms: simple, compound and complex.

 

SIMPLE: contains a subject, verb and predicate.

John stared at his wife.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Short sentences are best used to emphasize a point.

John stared malevolently at his wife. Mary ran.

Out of context, we don’t know what’s going on or how scared Mary is, but we don’t need a lot of words to explain her fear. The previous sentence says it all.

Keep the very short sentences to a minimum. Too many will make your work sound like choppy grade-school reading, and it eventually becomes annoying. You don’t want your book to become some reader’s ‘wall banger.’ Your best bet is to vary the length throughout your work.

 

COMPOUND: has more than one subject and predicate.

On the other hand, try not to make your sentences too long. Overly long sentences tend to contain too much detail, and by the time the reader gets to the end of it, they’re probably staring at the sentence and thinking, “Huh?” They’ve undoubtedly missed the point you were trying to make.

John flipped through the colorful pages in the magazine, then he tossed it on the table with the others.

There are two complete sentences in the above example. It can be broken up and a little more detail added, or left as is. If you’re going to leave it as is, then you’ll want to omit the pronoun ‘he’ since it isn’t necessary, except to add to the word count. (That’s another topic to tackle with a subsequent post.)

John flipped through the colorful pages in the magazine. He tossed it on the table with the others when none of the articles caught his interest.

Now we have a pretty good idea that John is bored. If you have a long descriptive sentence, try breaking it up into two or three smaller sentences. The description will be more palatable, and the reader will get more out of it.

The worst descriptions I’ve seen written are when a character steps into a room. The writer often thinks they have to describe every stick of furniture, every color, every texture. If the room is important to the story, then a complete description may be necessary for the reader to get a feel for it. The description can also be broken up to fit the scenes as needed. Here’s an example of too much detail in long sentences:

John stepped into the small office. The thick dark brown rug was a color match to the wall paneling which covered all the walls from floor to ceiling. The old oak desk was huge and took up the space in front of one of the walls. Behind it, was a comfortable looking high-backed leather chair that sat close to the desk in front of the hidden window. Covering the single window, dark velvet curtains seemed out of place. The only light came from a small lamp sitting on a cabinet in the corner of the room.

Here’s one way it could be handled to make it more interesting.

John entered the small office. The color of the thick rug seemed to creep up the walls to the ceiling. He felt as if he’d stepped into a box. It was hard to tell where the rug ended and the paneling began. The huge oak desk looked old, compared to the new leather chair behind it. John moved closer to the desk and looked up at the window. He resisted the urge to tear down the dark velvet curtains and let in some light. A small lamp gave off a soft glow in one corner, but cast more shadows than it lit the room. A feeling of claustrophobia overcame him. He stepped back, ready to bolt, but froze when he sensed the presence behind him.

The character’s reaction to the furnishings, and the room itself, add more interest to the scene. Sentence length and type is varied.

Another point you want to minimize is the use of prepositional phrases. ‘In the house,’ ‘out the door,’ ‘after the fact,’ ‘beyond the horizon,’ When too many are written within one sentence, it can set up a sing-song pattern that quickly becomes annoying. There are better ways to express what’s going on than in a series of prepositional phrases.

All the paths in the garden were lined with colorful flowers.

The garden paths were lined with colorful flowers.

Both sentences say the same thing, but the second one is more concise and far less annoying.

 

COMPLEX: uses clauses to add detail. The biggest mistake writers make, beginners in particular, is starting almost every sentence with a clause.

Dismayed by Mary’s frequent absences, John began making phone calls to locate her. Playing innocent, Mary’s best friend pretended not to know where Mary was. Taking matters into his own hands, John decided to hire a private detective.

The flow of the scene is quickly broken up by too often using clauses to start off sentences.

John was fed up with Mary’s frequent absences, and began making calls to locate her. When he called her best friend, the woman answered his questions without telling him anything. John slammed down the phone in a fury. There was only one way left to handle the situation—he had to hire a private detective.

Once in a great while, it is necessary to start a sentence with a clause to keep the flow going. When you get the hang of using clauses properly, you’ll develop a sense of their place within a story.

I should make mention here about sentence fragments. Like short sentences, they should be used very sparingly. A fragment is missing the verb, and is more like a long clause with no life of its own and a purely contextual purpose.

These three types of sentences are the basis of all writing, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, office reports, or even letters. Learning these differences is half the battle.

This deal was worth a great sum of money to John’s company. He had ten minutes to get to his client’s office. When he finally arrived, the secretary glanced up at him. Too late.

 

From Marissa St. James’ Doing it Write: Putting the Final Polish on Your Manuscript, Copyright © 2006 PageTurner Editions, available at Amazon.com for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook and iTunes for Mac-based devices. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Guest columnist Marissa St James writes sweet romance. Her books include Lady in Black and Other Tales of Paranormal Romance, The Legend and the Laird, Liberty’s Belle, and many others. Find them all and keep up with Marissa’s writings and doings at www.msjbookshelf.blogspot.com and www.marissastjames.blogspot.com.

 

 

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Nov 102013
 
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By Jan Graham

Procrastination, avoidance behavior and excuses: three things at which I, along with other authors I know, seem to excel. The fact is, when you write for a living the only person keeping you accountable for showing up at the computer each day is, well, you. There isn’t a boss, a time clock or colleagues waiting for you to arrive at work, there’s no management committee requesting an account of how you’ve spent your time or what you’ve produced in the last week, month or year. There’s just you and, if you’re a full time procrastinator and shirker of responsibility, probably an empty bank account.

I’ve recently had another book accepted for publication, but writing it posed all sorts of problems. After nearly twelve months of avoiding putting fingers to keyboard on that particular novel, I finally decided I needed to make myself accountable to someone else in order to get it done. Enter my best friend (I’ll call her ‘H’), teacher of more than twenty years, wearer of funny hats, lover of all books (not just the ones I write) and critic of my in-progress work.

H and I met for coffee, where we discussed what might be preventing me from working on this particular book. After psychologically dissecting me, we finally made a deal: I’d begin writing the elusive script and she’d keep me accountable for doing it. My target—one chapter every two days; my punishment for not producing the chapter without a plausible reason—a battering of emails, phone calls and texts from H demanding I live up to my word and fulfill our agreement. Luckily our friendship remained intact over the time it took to complete the manuscript. No, I didn’t always produce the chapter on time, sometimes for legit reasons like I can’t write a coherent sentence with a migraine. Other times with no legit reason, or the flimsy ones which H saw straight through and called me out on.

Being accountable to someone other than myself certainly worked in this instance; it allowed me to produce when I really didn’t want to, giving me the incentive and support to complete a task I found difficult for lots of reasons. So, if you’re having difficulty writing, finding a way to make yourself accountable may also work for you. If you’re lucky enough to have books already contracted to a publisher, then there’s your accountability right there. But if you’re like me, often writing with no idea where the manuscript will end up, then it’s time to be creative. No pun intended.

Find a way to make yourself accountable for the production of tangible work on a regular basis. Stop using excuses and get on with the job any way you can. Grab a friend to keep you on track like I did. Give yourself a goal to purchase or do something once you’ve finished a task, or ask your hubby or wife to say no sex until that book is finished (that would get me writing really fast ☺). Whatever you think will work for you, do it.

So, what do you do as incentive to write? Are you accountable to someone? If you have any ideas that keep you on track and stave off procrastination when you’re writing, I’d love to hear them. After all, a self-confessed procrastinator can never have too many ideas up her sleeve.

 

About the Author:

Jan Graham describes herself in many ways. She is a full time writer, friend, submissive, orphan, widow, aunt, and sometimes, a wild child. Despite any hiccups the universe may throw at her, she believes in experiencing everything life has to offer and being the best person she can be. Jan lives in Newcastle, Australia, where she spends her time writing erotic romance. Her writing falls under a variety of genres including BDSM, contemporary romance, romantic suspense and paranormal romance.

Jan has often been quoted as saying I am glad to finally give my characters, who swirl around my head on a constant basis, the opportunity to put themselves down on paper and I hope they entertain my readers as much as they amuse me.

Find out more about Jan Graham, browse her books and follow her social media links at www.jangraham.com.au.

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Oct 022013
 
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By M. Christian

For new writers, the temptation is obvious: after all, if you don’t know something, shouldn’t you seek out a way to learn about it? The question of how to educate yourself as a writer is a necessary and important one, of course, but an often-invisible second question follows: how do you sift through the piles of would-be writing coaches, teachers and other purveyors of advice to find the ones who will lead you toward genuinely better writing? The problem isn’t that there are over-eager teachers galore, but that far too many of them are preaching from ignorance—or just dully quoting what others have already said.

This is particularly true of erotic romance. Now, I have to admit I’ve been more than a bit spoiled by other genres, where you can write about whatever you want without much of a chance—beyond clumsy writing—of getting rejected for not toeing the line, so approaching erotic romance has been a bit more of a challenge. Romance authors, after all, have been told time and time again that there is a very precise, almost exacting, Way of Doing Things … and if you don’t, then bye-bye book deal.

But times have changed, and while a few stubborn publishers still want erotic romantic fiction that follows established formulas, the quantum leap of digital publishing has totally shaken up by-the-numbers approaches to romance writing. Without going too much into it (maybe in another column…), because ebooks are so much easier to produce, publishers can take wonderful risks on new authors and concepts, meaning that they don’t have to wring their hands in fright that the new title they greenlit will go bust and possibly take the whole company with it.

Because of this freedom, erotic romance can be so much more than it ever was: experimental, innovative, unique, challenging, etc. These are no longer the Words of Death when it comes to putting together a book.

One of the great, underlying tasks of teaching—one I love, but with some reverence and an occasional pang of dread—is challenging the boring, formulaic, way that so many talk about writing (which is also to say that a huge part of the reason I love to teach is that it’s a weird form of revenge against all the bad writing teachers I’ve had over the years). There are, however, far too many writing teachers who relentlessly parrot that erotic romance has to follow a strict formula to be successful. They spell out this formula in stomach-cramping detail: what has to happen to each and every character, in each and every chapter, in each and every book.

This is not to say that new authors should put their hands over their ears any time someone offers up advice on romance writing; there is, after all, a huge difference between a teacher who inspires from experience and one who is just a conduit between you and a textbook. A publisher, for instance, who looks at their catalogue and can see what is selling for the moment—they’re worth listening to. On the other hand, one who sets down unbending rules on what Not To Do and What To Do, regardless of the changing interests of readers or the innovations of writers, is only mumbling at you through the sand in which their head is lodged. Case in point: I once had a erotic romance novel rejected by a major publisher not because of the writing, the plot, the characters, or the setting but because it was about a painter and, according to this publisher, “books about painters don’t sell.”  Needless to say, I didn’t let this feedback stop me from sending the book to a different publisher—where it sold quite well.

The A-to-B-to-C form of teaching writing is likened to cutting up a frog: certainly an efficient way of finding out (ewwwww) the contents of an amphibian … but totally useless as a way of creating your own.  A good test of a writing instructor, by the way, is how you feel at the end of the class or how-to book: if you’re shaking like a leaf that you might have made—or will make—some kind of horrible erotic-romance-writing mistake, then the lesson was a bad one … but if you leave feeling elated, inspired, confident and ready to build your story into something powerful then, you guessed it, the class was good.

Folks have come to me with questions like “Can I start my story with an email?” “Can I start with the weather?” “Can my setting be in a foreign country?” “Can I write about an artist?”  I think you can guess what my answer always is: just write! One, you can always change it later and, two (most importantly) write what you want to read: don’t suffocate your creativity with formulas, set-in-stone rules, mandatory character arcs and Hero’s Journeys, or any standardized thing that isn’t relevant to what’s really happening in your story. Instead, think of writing—especially erotic romance—as creation. Sure, you’re going to make some mistakes, but everyone does. That’s what learning is all about. Taking class after class after class doesn’t write books: you do! Taking class after class after class doesn’t even make you a better writer: you do!

Sure, you should seek out some teachers—especially when you are ready to step into the completely terrifying world of publishing—but don’t think that there is a guru out there who has all the answers, who is the Sacred Keeper of the Great Romance Writing Secret. If they were, wouldn’t they be sitting on their yacht sipping immaculately prepared daiquiris?

The best advice, the best lesson that anyone can give a writer, is the simplest: write.  Create stories and books and on and on and on until it begins to flow and the words aren’t words anymore but just notes in a composition, until plot and character and setting and dialogue aren’t separate things but part of a greater, beautiful, whole. Once you can hold what you wrote in your hand—or on the screen—and say to yourself that what you have created is good, then you can study the lessons of how to put it out into the world.

But, until then, do everything you can to keep yourself inspired, enthusiastic, creative, thrilled, and excited about writing—by staying away from the tired idea of formulas … and keep that frog intact.

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Jun 142012
 
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Every Author has an idea of what their image should be. Some are so perfect and careful about it, they have no image for the fans to connect with. Others are rebellious and insist on shocking first then wondering what they have so few fans or followers. It’s kind of like that line in the film Bull Durham, where baseball catcher, Crash Davis, comments on the fact that his astoundingly talented minor league pitcher is basically …

“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”

Okay, authors, let’s talk about your image. Please.

No Facebook or Twitter avatars your mother would be embarrassed to see. No pictures of your dog or cat cleaning itself. No photos of you drunk at a club, whooping it up. You’re an author and should be aware of your image. This doesn’t require a professional photo session with an expensive photographer, just a nice picture of you, clean and neat. We don’t need to see you working hard at the computer or appearing overly serious. You can show your personality, smile, enjoy the moment. Just remember, literary agents, publishers, other authors and your prospective book buyers are looking at that avatar. Are you really proud of it?          

If you prefer not to use a photo of yourself, your book cover is a good option. No book cover yet? Use an image that represents your book until you have one.

And one final suggestion, please don’t change your avatar picture more than once a year. It’s how your friends and followers recognize you. Don’t confuse us.

No matter what you write or who your audience is … YOU are a professional. You’re an author, be proud of it.

Next time we’ll cover Author Success Tool #7, Marketing.

Feel free to contact me at writerchef@sbcglobal.net with any questions or to share your success stories! If you’d like to know more, let me know and I’ll put you on the mailing list for online workshops and information about my book, Finding Author Success: Discovering and Uncovering the Hidden Power within you Manuscript, “Finding Author Success” available in print and ebook on Amazon, B&N, Apple and Sony

Share
Apr 242012
 
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Every Author has an idea of what their image should be. Some are so perfect and careful about it, they have no image for the fans to connect with. Others are rebellious and insist on shocking first then wondering what they have so few fans or followers. It’s kind of like that line in the film Bull Durham, where baseball catcher, Crash Davis, comments on the fact that his astoundingly talented minor league pitcher is basically …

“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”

Okay, authors, let’s talk about your image. Please.

No Facebook or Twitter avatars your mother would be embarrassed to see. No pictures of your dog or cat cleaning itself. No photos of you drunk at a club, whooping it up. You’re an author and should be aware of your image. This doesn’t require a professional photo session with an expensive photographer, just a nice picture of you, clean and neat. We don’t need to see you working hard at the computer or appearing overly serious. You can show your personality, smile, enjoy the moment. Just remember, literary agents, publishers, other authors and your prospective book buyers are looking at that avatar. Are you really proud of it?

If you prefer not to use a photo of yourself, your book cover is a good option. No book cover yet? Use an image that represents your book until you have one.

And one final suggestion, please don’t change your avatar picture more than once a year. It’s how your friends and followers recognize you. Don’t confuse us.

No matter what you write or who your audience is … YOU are a professional. You’re an author, be proud of it.

Next time we’ll cover Author Success Tool #7, Marketing.

Feel free to contact me at writerchef@sbcglobal.net with any questions or to share your success stories! If you’d like to know more, let me know and I’ll put you on the mailing list for online workshops and information about my book, Finding Author Success: Discovering and Uncovering the Hidden Power within you Manuscript, “Finding Author Success” available in print and ebook on Amazon, B&N, Apple and Sony

 

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