If there is one thing avid readers are frustrated by, it is reading a novel or other story in which the details of personality of any of its characters change throughout the read. When a story feels as if it was thrown together, it becomes hard to follow, and readers do not want that. They want a read that is engaging and makes sense. A major flaw in many stories is lack of character continuity, something authors of all experience levels need to pay close attention to.
The Problem for Readers
When characters carry inconsistent characteristics, it makes reading the story cumbersome and confusing. This situation can occur when more than one person is writing the piece or when the author is writing off the cuff, creating the story as they go without taking notes. It also happens when the story has not been researched ahead of time or proper character development wasn’t outlined prior to writing. Realistically, this can make readers abandon the book and generate poor ratings, killing sales.
The Problem for Writers
Any writer will understand that when inspiration hits, they need to go with it. Brainstorming and free-writing is perfectly fine for notes and first drafts; however, the writer must then take the time to check for consistency. Errors and oversights typically occur when self-publishing authors lack outside editing. This results in a poor quality book, low sales, and bad reviews of both book and author. It also prevents readers from returning to the same author’s future works.
The best practice for a writer during the creation process is to take notes as they go. No matter how well an author knows their characters and what they want from the story, small details can make the biggest difference in readability. Notes should be jotted down each time a detail about the character comes out, such as personality quirks, moods, or health issues. If a character has an eighth-grade education, note this! This way it will be clear not to have the character speak or act above their social level.
Once the story is written, the list of character details can be organized alphabetically or in order of appearance in the story. The latter is the easiest way to assist an editor and to introduce the reader to the characters if the list will be included as an aside to the story. If a character list is included, it is usually done so in very long works of fiction or in screenplays prior to the first chapter. Notes can of course be re-written for clarity once compiled. Regardless, this will add continuity to the writing and aid in ease of reading.
Because being a writer involves so much more than writing, many writers can be put off by “what happens next” after their manuscript is complete. Some will delay writing for fear of the selling process while others may have the next great American novel sitting in a file on their laptop hoping it will publish itself. This quick seven-step guide will give writers who are reluctant to handle the business side of their work the boost they need to be successful.
Begin with a Brainstorm
Sometimes when faced with a large project, too many elements encroach from all directions, making them difficult to sort out. This is where a brainstorm (or a brain-dump) comes into play. Beginning at the beginning is impossible when one doesn’t know where to start. If this is the case, start anywhere. Imagine where you will be a year from now and what it will take to get there. Your first publication, more books completed, and growing your online presence are good places to start.
Find Your Common Themes
Once your next year is on paper, comb through to determine which goals fit into the same theme. Themes can include writing improvement, publishing (including locating and querying appropriate agents), and social networking. Education is another theme that can crop up. That would include things like finding a writing partner, attending workshops, and industry research.
Prioritize Your Objectives
With your goals more organized, you can start prioritizing your objectives. Based on your current situation, figure out what your highest priority is – what must you accomplish first before any of the other steps can happen? Be honest with yourself, and determine what your writing career really needs by setting your personal wants for your career aside. Work your way outward into a realistic road map to your goals.
Build Your Platform
Next, you will need to choose which goals you are going to pursue. Pick two of your most critical focus areas or themes, and think about what steps are needed to complete them. A good, attainable business plan typically contains two goals. The third and fourth goals and so on become secondary goals. All goals should have an action list with clear steps toward achievement.
Make a Realistic Timeline
For each goal, setting a timeline will keep you accountable and allow you to budget your time accordingly. Timelines can be composed of weekly, monthly, even seasonal deadlines that you set based on your needs. Every time you set a deadline, remember to set a fallback date in case that deadline is missed. This makes keeping to your schedule a bit more forgiving in case something comes up.
Compile Your Plan
When putting together your final writing business plan, it helps to create a visual reference. Using a spreadsheet is the easiest way to chart your plans. Begin with the headers Area of Focus, Goal, Timing, and Action Items. As you fill in the list, highlight the priorities of each task. Recommended: light red for top priority, yellow for secondary priority, green for “when everything else is done.” Keep this visual aid posted where you write so you are always reminded to stay on track.
Keep Going with Daily Challenges
With your business plan in place, the hardest part will be staying with it and keeping yourself honest. As a writer, you wear many hats, but your plan will help you keep your milestones in view. As you reach each one, you will feel more empowered to tackle the next. Give yourself room for new projects within your plan, and be forgiving of yourself when things change. Restructuring is easy once your time and goals are organized. Most of all, challenge yourself to ensure everything you do will help you reach those goals.
Literary agents and publishers have a tough job sorting through the piles of queries that come across their desks during any given month. Some rare gems are sent in by authors who are experienced in cleaning up their own work and educated in the query process. They understand what is expected of them and how to make a positive impression on potential investors in their work. These pro-tips will help authors have a better chance at passing the screening process and launching their new book.
Scouting the Field
Query Tracker Steven Salpeter of Curtis Brown, Ltd., states that before any manuscripts go out, “You should be making trips to book stores.” Simply browsing displays can teach authors a lot about proper genre labeling, cover layouts, even the types of books that are given priority in placement within the store. This will help the author have a better idea of precisely what they are selling and what to compare it to, and will therefore allow for a much clearer pitch.
Preparing the Ammunition
The next tip comes from Stacey Graham, Associate Literary Agent with Red Sofa Library. She recommends while the author is shopping their market to ask themselves a few key questions. What type of person is this book written for? If they were to recommend your book, who would they show it to? Rather than limiting your audience to one cast “type,” like history buffs or romance readers, think outside the lines. Readers always want new experiences, so think about ways to cross-promote.
Going In for the Kill
Also an agent for Curtis Brown, Ltd., Noah Ballard states if a query isn’t addressed to him specifically, he will not read it. By doing some research on who you are writing to and what in particular they are looking for, authors stand more of a chance at earning a request for a full manuscript. Likewise, Corvisiero Literary Agency’s Kaitlyn Johnson reminds authors that a query is the beginning of a working relationship. Following directions, showing respect, and giving one’s best pave the way to success.
Too often, queries come across that never should have left the author’s hands. Manuscripts that have not been edited for length and clarity, manuscripts that lack a clear genre or sub-genre, and those that arrive with a poor sales pitch are among the first to be rejected. Even if an author has been previously published, it is always a good idea to spend the extra time polishing both product and approach to make a positive impression on the agent or publisher.
Some writers bloom early and receive recognition early, while others receive recognition later (even if they start early), or become writers later in life. If you have the urge to write, take heart from those who came before you and didn’t give up, or became inspired late in life.
Sometimes Inspiration and Opportunity Are Delayed
Authors of all ages face challenges. Sometimes wanting to write and being able to write are two different things. Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing in her 40s as a columnist. When she was 64 years old her reputation-making book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” was published. Raymond Chandler began writing after he lost his job when he was 44 years old.
James Michener, Anthony Burgess, Frank McCourt, Harriet Doerr, Mary Wesley, Helen DeWitt, and Donald Ray Pollack were not ready to publish until many years after they began writing. They had more time to write than Anna Sewell and Millard Kaufman, who passed away not long after completing their works.
Harry Bernstein wrote “The Invisible Wall” in his 90s and 40 more unpublished works before that. Like Elizabeth Jolly and Helen DeWitt, he was unable to get published despite prior efforts at writing. Unlike Helen DeWitt, who had numerous fragments, but like Elizabeth Jolly, he had completed works that never got published. This is not an unlikely fate for many writers. However, he was successful at an age when fewer authors have found success. And, after his first published success, he wrote two more novels!
Perseverance Is Rewarded for Writers Who Improve Their Craft
For years, Kent Haruf toiled at improving his writing before becoming a published novelist. Philip Schultz, who started writing when he was 17, remains a rejected novelist; however, he is a successful poet. In “Poet vs. Novelist,” a New York Times article, he explained that he wrote poems to release his sorrow at not being an accepted novelist despite writing novels for more than 20 years.
His first poem was accepted when he was 28. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “The Wherewithal,” a long poem in which he used techniques he had learned while writing his rejected novels. In fact, this story in verse is also his first published novel.
Philip Schultz was rewarded as a poet, rather than a novelist. Succeeding as a poet is an accomplishment to be proud of. Literature comes in many forms, and as Rabindranath Tagore and Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prizes for Literature reveal, even the poetic verses in songs can be good literature.
Networks for writers of a mature age are rare, so joining a support group like The Prime Writers network would be helpful. It is never too late to become a writer. In fact, mature writers have a larger reservoir of life experiences to inform their writing.
The engaging words and images mix of graphic novels (long-form narratives in the style of comic books) has enabled creative storytellers to craft compelling stories. Academic and critical respect has followed for what was once identified as an inferior reading genre.
The internet age and the reduced free time people have today have boosted the popularity of this more visual and effective method of storytelling for young and adult readers alike.
Popularized in the ’70s, graphic novels have expanded the boundaries of comic book writing. The boldness that comes naturally to this more accessible medium has encouraged writers to be revolutionizers. Graphic novel series are highly conducive to the digital format that young and adult time-challenged readers prefer.
However, the process involved in creating the novel is harder and slower for authors. It’s also less immersive than prose because of the drawing and design work that’s required.
A Powerful Tool for Creative Minds
Graphic novel writers have accepted the advantages of using this medium to boldly engage readers. Writers have used its freedom and accessibility to address important themes, tell personal stories, and take on taboos.
The range of themes in this storytelling medium is no less restricted than traditional literature. The variety of themes is illustrated in the adolescent pains addressed in “Ghost World,” the politics of “V for Vendetta,” the personal stories of immigrants in “Persepolis” and “The Best We Could Do,” and Nazi occupation as told by “Maus.” Popular graphic novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, led to film, TV, and theater adaptations, and raised the graphic art of comic book storytelling.
These visual stories pack a punch that is powerful and effective in a way that word-centric texts cannot be. As a result, educators have used graphic novels as teaching materials. In fact, the Vietnamese author of “The Best We Could Do,” Thi Bui, was a teacher before she became a novelist. The format is also conducive to narration that alternates in time and space (the fourth dimension artfully utilized by Alan Moore) and the present and the past as reflected in Bui’s novel.
Energizing Literature with Originality
Chris Ware’s “Building Stories” is being compared to “Ulysses” by James Joyce. His earlier book, “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” won a literary award competing with traditional novels and was praised for its “originality and energy.” Claire Armitstead, chairperson of the judges who awarded the First Book Award to Ware’s book, described what the best graphic novels have accomplished. She said they challenge “us to think again about what literature is and where it is going at the start of the 21st century.”
When an author has a new manuscript, or even the strong beginnings of one, to present to agents, the author needs to be ready to nurture the relationship from the first contact. The agent-author connection is much like any other relationship in that a healthy one benefits both parties based on what they put into it. The agent will work diligently to promote the author’s work, and the author will work to make the agent’s job easier in every way possible.
Before sending any manuscript for a query, the author must put an effort into researching the company and individual person he or she is submitting to. While literary houses have rules that are generally similar, each agent will have their own niche within the publishing world and will look for a very specific type of writing or type of author. They may also have their own preferences as to the length of a sample they want to read, how it should start, and what it should contain. Authors must do the groundwork first!
Be a Professional
Literary agents are in the business of making money for themselves and for authors. They have contacts in the publishing industry that can offer tremendous opportunities for both new and established authors. Winning promotion and publishing contracts requires the author be professional at all times. Even if the writing life is a casual one, authors should put on their best airs when meeting with an agent by e-mail (in their language), via video chat, or in person. Authors are selling themselves as much as they are their books.
Bear in mind, the query letter to an agent is the first impression an author will make. Written communications should focus on professional language (no slang!) and the selling points of their work. They should be polite, addressing the agent personally, and should indicate the author is serious about creating a lasting professional relationship. Agents want to work with authors they can envision having long careers with multiple successful books. Confidence without ego is also necessary.
Be a Partner
An author’s work does not end with “The End.” The end of the writing is only the beginning of the road to publishing, and the agent will be the driving partner. Likewise, signing the publishing contract does not indicate the end of the process. Publishers want authors who are comfortable on social media, willing to present their own marketing ideas and find some of their own opportunities, especially those who can establish and grow a professional network.
The agent’s position post-publishing is to support the author in promotions, marketing, social engagements, and any other means for the publisher to generate recurring sales and interest. Authors must be willing to work with their agents, not against them. The agent should not have to pull all the weight in the professional relationship, so the author needs to be aware of the publishing process from step one and be available to contribute to their own success with their agent as a strong partner.
When authors establish themselves as part of the greater writing community, they can build many relationships. Those that benefit the author should be carefully cultivated and nurtured. It will take dedication on the author’s part, but they will find the same level of support if they land a great agent. This will be the most important relationship to come out of the publishing process.
Have you done something in your life that few others have, or perhaps something your friends and family only wish they had? Have you had a life experience that has fundamentally changed the way you look at things or the way you act or live? If so, you should consider putting your experiences in writing by way of a memoir. Even if you consider yourself a “nobody,” something about you may inspire others, and that is a message worth sharing.
The most important thing to remember is that although you may hear the terms “memoir” and “autobiography” used interchangeably, there is a marked difference between these two types of manuscripts. An autobiography is denoted by the time frame it covers, usually a chronological account of a life from birth to present day. A memoir, on the other hand, focuses on an event or series of events in a person’s life that stands out and warrants its own full-length explanation and exploration.
Be Ready to Commit to your Project
Once you decide to start writing your memoir, commit adequate time to completing it. No polished book happens overnight, so be prepared to devote serious time to your project. Scraping together a few minutes a day will not do. Ideally, look for a minimum of two to three hours per day you can block out on your calendar so you can write with a sense of purpose. Save extra time if possible for those related memories that crop up and demand to be a part of your story.
Along with committing time to your writing, consider the space in which you write. Some people may write better on a beach with a notebook and pen while others may prefer a quiet office setting. You are your own boss when writing your memoir, so seek out the environment where you are most productive. In the end, if your writing space is uncomfortable and full of distractions, your writing will be, too.
Stepping Stones to Keep You Going
Take a look online, at a book store, or in a library at the memoirs of others (they are usually found under the autobiography section). Thumbing through a few, do any characteristics stand out to you? Maybe they are written with a sense of humor or an adventurous voice. Some come across as unapologetic, while others are inspiring. Take those aspects that grip you, and incorporate them into your personal storytelling style.
Speak with others: friends, family, even perfect strangers, to see if they are interested in your story. If they are and would like to know more, chances are you have a memoir worth writing well. Whether you have done interesting volunteer work, spent a month in another country, or experienced a traumatic event, it will make fantastic writing material which you only have to pour out onto paper. Your story is your own but you can share it with the world.
Satire uses humor and irony to criticize society, individuals, or other subjects satirists consider worthy of ridicule. In February of this year, The Independent asked, “Donald Trump has at least made American satire great again – but why didn’t Brexit do the same for Britain?”
The Trump presidency is prime material for satire in this country. The tweeter-in-chief provides plenty of sources for satirists in the media. But what about in American literature?
American Literature Has a Rich History of Satire
Satire has a long history in the U.S., as revealed in Sophia McClennen’s and Remy Maisel’s book, “Is Satire Saving Our Nation?” Cartoons lampooning the English king were popular before the country’s independence. Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin wrote satire as critics of the culture and politics of their time. Franklin’s “A Witch Trial in Mount Holly” targeted superstition; and a theme of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was a critique of the 19th century society of his time.
Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” is fiction that demonstrates the diverse uses of satire. Heller skillfully revealed the difference between reality and appearance. Kurt Vonnegut and Chester Himes have also demonstrated the variety in consciously written American satire.
But sometime satire is not consciously produced. For instance, Paul Beatty has also used satire to discuss race and class; but he doesn’t write satire consciously, as he revealed in an interview published in The Paris Review.
Satirical Fiction in the Trump Era
From the colonial period to the present, Americans have responded to satire. The president is a divisive figure as America moves into the minority-majority era. His polarizing politics provide ‘red meat’ for his base and a foil for satirists on both sides of the Atlantic writing fiction inspired by his actions. For example, American satirist Andrew Shaffer wrote “The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America,” a thriller and a parody.
British author Howard Jacobson’s “Pussy” is a satirical fable inspired by the newly elected president, while Marc Rosenthal’s and Michael Ian Black’s visual “A Child’s First Book of Trump” is a picture-book that contains humor only adults can appreciate. These satirists have taken the lead that others can follow.
Writing Satire Well Requires Skill
Satire can be humorous; but not all satire is humorous. Humor is a powerful tool in the right hands; Americans respond well to humorous satire as delivered by America’s current television satirists. Through comedy the audience is exposed to subjects deserving criticism. With growing pushback against dissent, is this the time for a new golden age of satirical fiction?
When a writer has a deadline to meet and a word count to fill, it is tempting to make sentences wordier, opting for flowery descriptions rather than powerful prose. Editors will watch for this kind of extra wording and will often delete it in bulk, leaving sentences tighter and more efficient. Filler words also tend to make written pieces boring, turning reading into drudgery when the reader would rather get straight to the point.
The following examples show words that are often overused in writing or are used to fill in space where they are otherwise not needed. Writers should look for these instances in their existing work and fix them wherever possible. They should also make a conscious effort while writing to avoid using such words and instead focus on actions and more pointed descriptors.
Examples in Concise Writing
Lose “that.” “That” is one of those words having virtually no purpose other than taking up space. Take this sentence, for example: “She promised that she would never make the same mistake twice.” Removing “that,” the sentence is just as clear: “She promised she would never make the same mistake twice.”
You “really just only” need to say what you mean. “He really just needed only one car but purchased a second,” would do better as, “He needed one car but purchased a second.” These three words are as annoying to editors and readers as “very,” which is another no-no.
“She was almost slightly drifting on what seemed like air.” Words like “almost,” “slightly,” and “seeming/seems” are boring! These give readers little direction. Saying something is “almost” something tells a reader that it may or may not be, and they will never know. “She was drifting on air,” paints an immediate and clear picture in the reader’s mind.
“Basically,” the word “absolutely” is “actually” unnecessary. If the subject of the sentence is “actually” something, using words like these become redundant. “She was positively certain she would win,” is better written as, “She was certain she would win.”
In descriptive sentences, phrases like “kind of,” “sort of,” and “a little,” convey nothing and are better left out. Readers do not want wishy-washy writing; they want the writer to speak directly and confidently. This builds trust in the writer’s work. “His speech was sort of a hit,” sounds much stronger as, “His speech was a hit!”
Finally, “very” should never be included unless it is vital: for example, in a direct quote. If a descriptor in a sentence is strong enough, this word makes the sentence weak and shows no effort on the writer’s part to convey deeper meaning. Instead of saying, “She was very mad,” remove “very” and try “irate,” “fuming,” or “infuriated.”
In short, writing concisely provides readers a clean, clear read. Readers appreciate this because it allows them to read faster and gain more insight and information, and it holds their attention better than filler words. If a writer needs help getting into this good habit, a thesaurus is a great tool to have handy while writing.
As a writer, do you balk at big projects? Do you wonder where to begin or have problems focusing on the mountain of work before you? If you are beginning a book and can’t figure out where to start, or if you are mid-story and have lost focus, reading through these pitfalls and how to avoid them will motivate you to take action and finally get your book written.
When writing on a specific topic, it is imperative to research that topic and know what you are talking about. It is counterproductive, however, to read and pick apart every book you can find on the topic by other writers in the field. What you want is your own fresh perspective, not your writing reflecting everyone else’s. Do your research to include in your work, but know when to pull back and add your own thoughts to the topic.
While free-writing is a good way for some writers to clear their heads and turn over new ideas, it is not the way to start a book. Give your work focus early on by composing a brief thesis that reflects a perspective your reader will value. This will give your work a solid introduction while keeping your writing on track.
Stop Staring at a Blank Page
Before going on a road trip, smart drivers begin with a map and a clear idea of where they are headed and how they will get there. There may be some detours or delays along the way, but they remain focused on their goal. As a writer, beginning your story without a map will lead you nowhere. Even a loose outline of what you want to cover will keep your writing trained on the task at hand and will alleviate that daunting “staring at a blank page” feeling that can block writing before it begins.
Stop Being Orderly
While it may seem logical to start writing a book at Chapter One, this is actually one of the hardest places to start. Your first chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book and must support the entire story. Likewise, your last chapter must tie the story up into a perfect bow without any loose ends. By writing from your middle chapters first, or even building your story in both directions, you will have enough material to write a solid first and last chapter, perfectly framing your story.
Stop Losing Focus
This is one of the most difficult things to accomplish when writing at length. The sock drawer needs to be organized. Trash needs to go out. A hundred other things need to be done. Despite all this clawing at your attention, your project awaits. If you intend to write a quality piece, give it the attention it deserves, even if that means scheduling time in your day for it like any other job.
Editing while you write will only hinder your progress. If you are being counterproductive, you will quickly become frustrated and may abandon the project altogether. Nothing has to be perfect in your first draft (or your second, or third). Once you have at least the bare bones of your story in place, then you can worry about smoothing out the wrinkles.
Writing a book is a massive task that can be daunting and frustrating, and make even a professional writer want to throw in the proverbial towel. By kicking these common bad habits, your best writing will happen more easily than you thought possible.