Hello and thank you to those of you who responded to last week’s little survey in regard to writing and critique groups. The survey consisted of four questions and I will go through them one at a time, sharing both the responses of those who left their answers in the comments last week, as well as my own personal experiences.
Q: Are you part of a writer’s group or critique group?
A: Mary shared that she is not part of either a writer’s group or a critique group. She also shared that she doesn’t have a lot of time to commit to a group regularly. Her available time would be sporadic.
Kayla also shared that she is not part of a specific writer’s group or critique group. However, she is part of a writer’s chat-type group.
I have been a part of a writing group for seven years. I also participated in a writing group for three or four years. I am also part of several writing groups, though not active in some of them. I have been a part of several different critique groups as well, but am currently part of only one small critique group.
Q: Does your group meet in person or strictly online.
A: This question didn’t apply to Mary, and it didn’t really apply to Kayla either, although Kayla did share that if she were part of a group, online would work best for her.
My current writer’s group and critique group are in person groups, although the writer’s group hasn’t met in person since Covid-19 began.
I have also been part of an international group that was online, except for an annual in person conference. I was a part of that group for three or four years, and it definitely benefitted me to some degree. I am also part of several online writing groups on Facebook, and I am part of the same online chat-type group as Kayla.
Q: If you’re not part of a writer’s group, would you like to be?
A: Mary said she thinks she’d like to be, and Kayla said she would like to be.
Q: How do you benefit from participating in a writer’s group?
A: Mary thought it would be helpful to find out if her writing is interesting to other people. She also shared that she knows she tends to be more “wordy” than current guidelines suggest, and she shared that she doesn’t always have a lot of confidence in her skills.
In my experience over the past seven years, I have found some writing groups and critique groups very helpful, and I have found that some writing groups and critique groups were not helpful. Some were even harmful.
How could a writing group or critique group be harmful? The groups that I attended that fall under this category, I visited just once and never went back because they were very unkind with their critiques of other writers’ works. They were quite critical and stated things in an unkind way instead of being kind, helpful, and offering constructive criticism. Had I attended any of these groups years before I did, I may have walked away thinking I couldn’t possibly be a writer and may have stopped writing. Thankfully, I had learned some things before attending such a group, and walked away feeling sorry for those in the group because I felt that they were missing out on something.
Another group that wasn’t helpful was a group of people who wrote “for themselves”. Although some of them said they would like to get published, they criticized “considering their audience” as they wrote, or following “any” rules at all in their writing.
I have found the Facebook groups very helpful in the past. However, since Facebook has become a catalyst for people to criticize one another, be unkind toward others, and go on and on about politics or Covid-19, I avoid Facebook for the most part. Not to mention, I have become quite busy with my writing endeavors, and I found it beneficial to cut down on the number of groups I participate in. I decided to narrow it down to the groups I find most beneficial and least time-consuming for me.
I also want to mention one type of critique group that I have not found as helpful as I would like, and that is a critique group that meets only once a month and doesn’t consist of the same people each month. This group also doesn’t share progressive pieces, like sharing your novel chapter by chapter, because it would take too long, since they only meet once a month. This caused some people to struggle with focusing on the piece being shared because it may not be the next one in order from the last one they read. They couldn’t seem to simply focus on the piece before them without wanting to know what happened “before”.
So, what kinds of writing and critique groups do I find helpful?
I am part of a writing group that meets once a month and has a speaker each month that teaches something about writing, publishing, or marketing. They also have an annual one-day conference where there are hour long seminars taught on writing, publishing, or marketing, and you can have one-on-one meetings with editors, published authors, or publishers, and, occasionally, maybe, an agent. I have found this group helpful and beneficial. I have made valuable connections and dear friends through this group.
I am also part of a writer’s group that I started with a small group of women that I was friends with, when I learned that they all had a strong interest in writing. We decided to have a very unique writing group, and it works very well for us. We meet, (or at least we did before Covid-19), once a week either at a coffee shop or one of the ladies’ homes. We spend two hours together brainstorming, asking each other for tips or advice, and just writing. We even had all nighters from time to time, where we stayed up all night on a Friday night engaging in these same activities. (Now, we’ve all gotten to a place where we can’t stay awake all night anymore, so we plan to implement the same thing as all-day.)
The critique group that I found that works best for me, and I’ve heard other writers speak highly of similar critique groups, consists of just me and two other ladies. We have been getting together, weekly for the first summer or year, then biweekly since, and we share our chapters to our novels, one after the other. I find this so helpful and effective because we really get to know each other’s writing style, voice, and goals, and this knowledge makes the feedback I get from these ladies incredibly helpful in my editing and revising process. This will seriously cut down on the cost of a professional edit before I publish.
With all of that said, I really only participate in the chat-type online group now because there’s no pressure to engage at specific times. We have members from different parts of the world, therefore we are not all in the same time zone. So the way this works, we enter the private meeting room and talk with whoever’s there when we are and we talk about writing, publishing, marketing, how to design a book cover, etc. In addition, we share things about ourselves and our lives. We encourage one another not just in our writing journeys, but in our life experiences without pressure or judgement.
So, as you can see, I regularly participate in three writer’s groups, each different from the others, and one critique group. The benefits I receive from these groups are: encouragement, support, ideas, advice on improving my writing, and interacting with people who are kind, who care about me, and who become friends.
Mary and Kayla, I hope you see this post and read it, and I hope others who would like to become part of a writer’s group, but don’t know how to find one or don’t have access to one in your own area, also read this. I am interested in helping writers like you to be able to participate in a group that would be valuable to you. I am trying to figure out how best to do that. Please keep reading my Thursday posts because as I work out the details, I hope to create a group for you, and when I know how it will all work, I will post here to explain it and offer it to you.
Writing may seem like a very solitary activity, but no one likes to be in something alone, and I have found many writers to be helpful, caring, and encouraging, and that is what I want to provide for those of you who are looking for that. That’s the purpose of these Thursday posts as well.
Today, I’d like to ask you to participate in a brief survey in regard to writer’s groups.
Please put your answers to the following questions in the comments section below.
- Are you part of a writer’s group or critique group?
- Does your group meet in person or strictly online?
- If you’re not part of a writer’s group, would you like to be?
- How do you benefit from participating in a writer’s group?
Next week, I will post results of this survey, as well as my own opinions and experiences with writer’s groups.
Today I have chosen to address the topic of “head hopping”. Some of you may ask, “What is head hopping?”
Head hopping is when a writer jumps from one head to another (switches from one character’s POV to another) without warning. (POV is Point of View). This can be quite confusing to your reader. It can also jolt your reader right out of your story. It is simply that the writer tells or shows us what is going on inside their main character’s head, then in the next sentence, next paragraph, or next scene tells or shows us what is going on in another character’s head without warning.
For instance: Robert took Janie’s hand as they strolled along the beach. When his fingers entwined hers, an electrical current shot through his fingers and up his arm. He wondered if she felt it too. Janie nearly pulled her fingers from Robert’s at the strength of the jolt his touch sent through her. She studied his face for a clue that he had felt it too.
Notice that in the first three sentences, Robert is the character reaching out to take Janie’s hand and feeling an electrical current shoot through his fingers. Then he wonders if she felt it too. In the next two sentences, Janie is the character considering pulling her fingers from Robert’s because of the jolt she felt at his touch. Then she studies his face to look for a sign that he might have felt something as well.
Do you see how we jumped from Robert’s head (POV) to Janie’s head (POV) in the same paragraph, just a few sentences apart? If Robert is the main character and we are inside his head in this paragraph or scene, we should be shown his thoughts and feelings. However, Janie is probably a second main character as she is most likely Robert’s love interest. But Robert cannot know what she thinks or feels unless she talks about her thoughts or feelings or exhibits a physical reaction.
Some of you may not see a problem with the example paragraph. Maybe it doesn’t confuse you or pull you from the story. However, for most readers, reading an entire book written this way gets tiresome and confusing. This kind of writing doesn’t allow your reader to get deep into one character’s head–thoughts and feelings–to fully be drawn in and engaged with the story.
Does this mean you can only have one point of view character in a story to avoid confusing your reader or pulling them out of your story? Certainly not. You just have to learn, and put into practice, how to move smoothly from one character’s head to another’s to avoid the confusion and the possibility of pulling the reader out of the story.
How do you avoid this problem? Be aware of whose point of view you are writing in –which character’s thoughts and feelings is your reader experiencing? While telling and showing your main character’s thoughts and feelings, remain in that character’s head, sharing these things until a scene or chapter comes to an end. The best and smoothest ways to change to another character’s thoughts and feelings is to wait to begin a new scene, then add a page break (use a symbol such as an asterisk three to five times in the center of the page with a page space before and after it), or wait until you begin a new chapter. These two places make a natural place to change your character’s POV, and by placing the page break and symbol or changing the chapter, your reader will know something is going to change and will be ready for it–expecting it. This will prevent confusing and jolting your reader out of the story.
One more thing I want to point out is that a character’s actions and physical reactions can be written in the same paragraph or scene as the main character’s as long as the main character is with the character who is acting or physically reacting. The main character can see the other character’s actions and physical reactions as long as they are with that other character. The problem with thoughts and feelings is that your main character is not a mind reader and cannot possibly know what the other character is thinking or feeling.
I hope you find this article helpful along your writing journey. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments section below. I will always respond.
Just a reminder for any of you who may still be interested in participating in last week’s Writing Prompt, please be sure, if you have a short piece, to post it in last Thursday’s comments section. If you have a longer piece, please email it to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can post it for this coming Saturday’s Special Post.
Now, for today, I’m going to talk about:
Character Back Stories
Character back stories are important for your main characters, and can also be important for a few other characters, depending on the part they play in your story.
What is back story? Back story is what happened to your character before the story you are telling. In other words, if your character is thirty years old, what happened to him in his first thirty years that played an important role in creating who he is or what flaws, strengths, weaknesses, and goals he has.
Heed this word of caution: It is important that you know your character’s complete back story. However, it is not necessary that your readers know your character’s complete back story. You need to know the back story so that you can create a well-developed character, so that you know what drives your character. What does he want?
For example: maybe your character’s father was never satisfied or happy with your character as a child and teenager, treating your character like he never did anything right. This could cause your character to have very little confidence in himself. He may believe he is unworthy of a career promotion, an award, a woman’s affections. He may fear being a father because he doesn’t want to raise a son to feel the way he feels.
These feelings could affect him in a way that makes him a loner, keeping to himself, not having friends, and not allowing himself to take an interest in any woman.
These things can create conflicts between him and other characters, in addition to the inner conflict he struggles with. For example, maybe there’s a woman who is attracted to him, tries to get his attention, and grows frustrated when it seems an impossible feat.
Another word of caution: when you do choose to share some of your character’s back story in your actual story, do it in short doses and in a way that weaves it into the story in a place where it is relevant and adds depth and meaning to the scene. It can be part of his internal thoughts, or part of dialogue he shares with another character, or an action or reaction triggered by a memory.
If you just “tell” what happened to him and “tell” it in a long paragraph or two, it will pull your reader out of the story, and it will be known as an “information dump”.
Any questions or thoughts you’d like to share in regard to character back story, please share in the comments below. If you see someone else’s question or thought, feel free to respond respectfully. And, as always, I will respond to every comment.
Today is the second Thursday of the month, and if you were here last month at this time, you know that it is time for a writing prompt. This time I have decided to use the photo above as the prompt for this month, in hopes that it will inspire more of you to write something and share with us.
This week I will talk about “the importance of reading, for a writer” and “should a writer read only books in their genre”? This topic was suggested by Christine Wachter. Thank you, Chris, for this suggestion.
I have heard a lot of talk about this subject, and I am actually quite surprised at the first part of the question: is it important for a writer to be a reader?
I recently saw this question posted on Twitter and read the long list of comments to see what people were saying. Most people said, “Yes, it is important for a writer to be a reader.” However, I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t think it necessary for a writer to be a reader.
Personally, I believe it is necessary for a writer to be a reader for several reasons:
1) reading other author’s works can help us to learn what to do as well as what
not to do; what works and what doesn’t.
2) reading can inspire us and give us ideas for our own stories.
3) reading other author’s works introduces us to other writing voices.
4) reading expands our vocabulary.
5) when you read, you naturally discover and learn many of the technical aspects of writing.
Now, let’s look at the second part of the question: should writers read only books in their own genre? I have been told, ever since I became a part of the writing world, that it is necessary to read lots of books in my genre. However, I was never told I should read only books in my genre.
Other writers and writing instructors will tell you to read lots of books in your genre for the following reasons:
1) reading lots of books in your own genre will help you learn what to do or
not to do; what works and what doesn’t in your genre.
2) reading lots of books in your own genre will give you a good idea of what’s
already out there, which will let you know if your idea is new and original
or if it’s been done before. If it’s been done before, you will want to find
a new way to present or approach it so that it isn’t “just like someone
else’s”. One of the questions a publisher or agent wants to see addressed in
your query or proposal is “how is your story different than the others that
are already out there in the same genre”.
I can tell you that I have been an avid reader ever since I learned how to read. I was one of those kids who read everything that had print on it for a long time. Over the years, I remained an avid reader, and I read lots of different genres. I write historical romance. However, I read any romance genre as long as it’s clean. I also read fantasy, mystery, suspense, crime novels — just about anything except sci-fi, horror, and erotica. I also do not read graphic novels or manga. The genres I choose not to read, I do not read based on my personal preferences. I don’t know of anyone who enjoys every genre out there.
So, my suggestion is — yes, read lots of books in your genre, but read books in other genres you enjoy as well.
What about the rest of you — What have you been told? What do you think? What do you read? Leave your answers to these questions in the comments section below and join the conversation. I respond to every comment.
Today I will be talking about character motivation, a topic suggested by one of my readers, Ann Harrison-Barnes who is also an author. Thank you for the suggestion, Ann.
Character motivation is important to any story. It is what drives your character to set goals and to take action. It is the reason why he or she behaves the way that they do.
Your character’s motivations come from their deepest needs and desires. Your character’s motivations also create emotional connections with your readers. If you can put your readers in your character’s shoes, they will definitely keep turning pages.
I believe it is important to determine your character’s motivations before you begin writing your story. Determining your character’s motivations should be done while you are determining and writing their back story because their motivation might be caused by something from their back story.
It is important to know your characters inside and out, which is why you need to create back stories for your characters. (We’ll talk about back story here on July 9th.)
Your character’s motivations will be determined the choices they make and whether they will be a good guy or a bad guy.
A character’s motivation is often caused by something they are dissatisfied with in their life or something they feel is missing from their life.
There are two kinds of motivation: external and internal.
External motivations are physical. Some examples include: physical needs — food, clothing, water, shelter; protection from an enemy or abuser; rescuing a family member or the love of their life from someone or something that poses a threat; surviving a natural disaster, etc.
Internal motivations happen within a character. These things may effect a character’s mindset, beliefs, or emotions. These things can be caused by a need for personal fulfillment — examples: to find love or friendship; to seek vengeance for a wrong done to themselves or someone they love (movie examples of this would be the “Die Hard” series where Bruce Willis’s character must save his wife’s life in one movie and his daughter’s life in another or the “Taken” series where Liam Neeson’s character must rescue his daughters from sex-slave traffickers in the first movie, and try to escape the men who have taken him and his wife as hostages in Istanbul in the second movie); to achieve their life’s passion, etc.
These could also be caused by fear or peer pressure — examples: To fit in with their peers or the “popular” crowd; to live up to family or societal expectations, etc.
These could also be caused by curiosity — examples: to solve a problem; to learn something new; to explore a new adventure — to go on an adventure, etc.
These things could also be caused by guilt or insecurity — examples: to gain self-confidence; to right a wrong they have done to someone; to overcome a bad habit, etc.
While determining your character’s motivations, you should consider asking yourself the following questions:
- How is my character dissatisfied with life?
- What events led my character to become dissatisfied in this way? Was it their upbringing? A bad life choice? The result of a specific relationship?
- What has kept my character from taking action to overcome this dissatisfaction? Money, time, fear, expectation, or something else? (A good movie example of this would be “It’s a Wonderful Life”, when George doesn’t get out of Bedford Falls to follow his dream because he feels an obligation to his family and his family’s business).
- What will finally push my character to action? In what situation would the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of action?
- What does my character’s motivation reveal about who they are? What does it say about their personality, back story, fears, desires, world views?
- Have other characters in my story experienced the same source of motivation? If so, what actions have they taken? Do their actions differ from those of my main character, and if so, what does that reveal?
- How might my character’s motivations change throughout the story? What will my characters learn as they achieve their goal? Will grow as people or fall victim to doubt or fear? Will this change alter their actions in my story?
Your character’s motivation can create tension in your story. You need to understand why your character needs to achieve their goal and what will happen if they don’t. Your character needs a strong reason to take action — strong enough that they will face their biggest fears, doubts, and insecurities.
Whether they succeed or fail, your character’s motivations will drive the events of the story and your character will grow and change throughout your story.
Your character’s motivations must engage your readers and keep your plot moving forward.
I got a lot of this information from this blog. It included a reference to “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”.
I would have liked to use my notes from a workshop I attended at a writer’s conference several years ago on this subject, but was unable to locate them, but the author who taught that workshop asked us what the main character’s motivation is in our WIP (work in progress), and if he didn’t think our answer was specific enough, he made us dig deeper to get to the root of the motivation. That’s why I stress the need for creating your character’s back story in before determining their motivations.
Feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, and questions in the comments sections below. I always respond to all thoughts, comments, and questions.
(This is a photo I previously used from Unsplash, and I apologize that I cannot find the name of the photographer who donated it this time, but I am thankful for the wonderful photographers who donate their great work on Unsplash so that I have a great place to find images to use with my blog posts.)
The Importance of a Good Editor
Sadly, no one responded to my plea for a topic for today, so I have had to decide what to post on. I hope that means you all find my topics helpful, but I really would love for you to let me know some writing topics you would like to see me cover because my hope is to really make this blog a place for me to interact with other writers, as well as readers, especially those who enjoy reading my writing, so that we can stay connected as I begin publishing my books.
So, today’s topic is in regard to editing. How many of you get distracted when you are reading a book and you suddenly come across errors in the writing, such as grammar, spelling, wrong word choice, confusing wording, etc? What about a problem in something like a mistake in a character’s name or description, the pace suddenly slowing to a degree where you find yourself losing interest, a mistake in the timeline, etc.?
If you’re anything like me, these errors aren’t just distracting. I also find them frustrating, especially if they occur frequently throughout the book, and I begin to wonder if the writer had an editor take a look at their completed manuscript before publishing it.
Most of the books I find that have the most errors are those that have been self-published. However, I also find errors, though not nearly as many, in traditionally published books.
As a reader, I have been tempted to stop reading a few books because the errors were so prevalent.
As a book reviewer, I find it extremely difficult to give a book with a lot of errors a four or five star rating. It may be a story that has a great plot and some wonderfully engaging and well-developed characters, but the errors make it quite unpleasant to read.
So writers, take my advice. I know a good editor costs a good chunk of money, but, in the long run, they are well worth their cost, especially if you want to publish the best possible story you can, and if you truly value good book reviews–and we, writers, all know how important those are to our future books if we want to keep readers.
I can hear some of you now: “Well, I go over my manuscript three or four times line by line with a fine-tooth comb. It can’t possibly have that many errors within, by the time I publish it.” To which I would respond, “But how many errors do you find acceptable for your finished published work to have?”
I know that I read over my manuscript very carefully several times as well. However, I also have two great critique partners who then read over it, and they always find more things I need to correct.
You see, as we read our own manuscript, we read it with a bias and a kind of blind eye because we read it as we know what we expect it to say, and I think that’s why we miss some errors.
In closing, I want to encourage you to seek the help of an editor, with some guidelines: 1) don’t choose the cheapest editor you can find; 2) be sure the editor is someone you believe you will be able to work well with and who has the best interests of you AND your story in mind and at heart; and, 3) don’t work with someone who is unkind and harsh. A good editor points out errors and makes suggestions on ways to correct those errors without being harsh or cruel and without belittling you or your work. Instead, a good editor will encourage you and simply do their best to make your finished story the best it can be.
Does all of this mean your story will be published completely error free? Possibly, but there is no guarantee. After all, even the best editors are human and may miss a couple small errors. However, with the help of a good editor, the errors will be few and far between — enough so that your readers won’t want to put your book down and they will be more likely to give out not just a four or five star rating, but also a glowing written review!
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