Showing vs. Telling

*Warning: The following essay contains spoilers from a recently released motion picture. If you are planning on seeing said movie and don’t want it ruined, please refrain from reading this post. If you’ve seen this movie or don’t care either way, then go on. I only spoil the first ten minutes or so anyway, so if you’re not too fussy, it probably won’t ruin too much of the movie anyway.

Not too long after I got back from my study abroad trip to Europe, my roommate and I went to go see Maleficent, which had just been released at that point. Early on in the movie though, there were a couple of things that my roommate and I had trouble with. Particularly the use of narration to tell the audience of Maleficent’s relationship to Stefan rather than actually showing how it developed. It actually made it really hard to get to know the characters and in the end, and the movie was less enjoyable than it could’ve been (though the CGI was rather amazing).

The example above is an example of showing vs. telling, which in my experience is one of the harder aspects of writing to master and one of the most difficult to teach. Yet it is vital for writers to learn to differentiate between the two and find the right balance of both showing and telling, because without being able to find some sort of balance, it makes for less entertaining stories.

Here’s an example of too much telling: Bob walked into an old house. There he encountered a beautiful woman who was really a witch. She stole his youth and he became an old man and died while she became beautiful and younger.

Now besides being dull, what can be said about this story? Very little, really. Your mind may have created an old house, a beautiful woman casting spells, Bob turning into an old man, but what else did it do? Nothing. You don’t get any detail about how we know the house is old, or how we know the beautiful woman was beautiful or a witch. We’re not shown how she steals Bob’s youth, or if he has any youth to give! He could really be middle-aged, for all we know. And why did he go into the house in the first place? Did he know about the witch?

Some writers call this the camera test. If you can’t build a picture in your mind with the information given to you in the text, then there’s too much telling and there needs to be more showing.

So what is showing? Basically it’s the meat of your story. Think of the telling as the barebones of your story, or what you would use in a summary of your novel. The showing is the dialogue, the details that paint the picture, the emotions and the exchanges, the tension and the moments of insight where you really get a sense of who the characters are and what happens to them in the course of the story.

In the example I used above, showing would involve us learning about why Bob went into the house in the first place. We would know what made the house old, as well as what the atmosphere around the house is like. Maybe there’s an oppressive air about the place, like a funeral that never seems to end. Perhaps there are dead trees and faded grass and it’s late in the evening, giving it a further creepy feel.

Once inside the house, we would find out what Bob experiences while in the house up until he meets the witch. We’d know what he’d think of the witch, if they exchanged any dialogue, and if he had any warning bells telling him to flee. Finally we’d see how the witch would take Bob’s youth, what it was like for him to lose his youth, and how the witch uses the stolen youth. If the author told the story right, we’d be able to picture all this with great clarity, and the story would have the required amount of showing and telling.

I know I just gave this example with a lot of telling and exposition, but you get the idea.

So along with the camera test, what are some other ways to gain a better understanding of showing vs. telling? Luckily as authors, we can go right to our favorite books to gain an understanding. Look at books you’ve enjoyed as well as books you hate. See how the author handled showing the story vs. telling the story, or how they didn’t handle it. You can also look for some articles on showing vs. telling, of which there are probably many besides this one (there’s a great one from Writer’s Digest that I found). And when you’ve done enough reading, try practicing telling and showing. Show it to someone if you feel comfortable and get their feedback. With practice, you can get very good at finding the balance of showing vs. telling.

Now using some exposition is necessary at times in stories while at other times there are passages where there is just too much information in the passage and a quick summary would be better. But one has to figure out where these passages belong themselves. And once you do, (pardon the pun) it will definitely show in your work.

Not to mention, we’ll actually come away with a better understanding of that maxim that writers, editors, and agents love to throw at their pupils: show, don’t tell. I’ve had one or two lessons with teachers where I wished they’d show me what they meant and not just tell it to me!

What Makes A Strong Character?

Today you hear a lot about creating strong characters. Specifically creating strong female characters or characters of color (there was a great Freshly Pressed post that talked about this with female characters). When you get down to the bottom of it all, the question is: how do you define a strong character?

As that Freshly Pressed post pointed out, most people look at strong female characters and think of the Buffys, the Katniss Everdeens, the Princess Leias, girls who are great with a weapon and are great at taking down bad guys. And they are strong characters, no doubt about it. But being able to stake a vampire or take down an evil empire does not make for a strong character. If being kick-ass made for strong characters, then all any protagonist would need is a whip or a set of ninja skills and we wouldn’t be having this debate or reading this article.

If you ask me, a strong character doesn’t have to kick down doors or be the greatest swordsman ever seen on the planet. What makes a character strong is not that they have physical strength, but that they are human.

For example, let’s take Zahara Bakur, the main character from my novel Reborn City. Zahara is not trained in any form of martial arts, nor does she have any auperpowers, though she knows several people who do. She’s a kind, peace-loving teenage girl. She’s kind of shy, she identifies herself as a Muslim, she’s more spiritual than religious (though she does follow the laws of Islam as much as she can), and she can’t stand violence. She’s a normal teenage girl…living in a dystopian society where in certain areas Islamaphobia is quite common.

Zahara seems like a real person, not a cliché or a stereotype. And through her experiences in RC, often at times very traumatic, she gains a powerful confidence and inner strength that shine through in the sequel, Video Rage. You see, a strong character is born when a human character goes through experiences that allow the character to show their humanity and at the same time tests it. The strength that follows from that testing, that powerful inner strength that we love seeing in these characters and is what truly makes a strong character.

Would Buffy be as beloved if she just went through vampire after vampire each and every episode and nothing else? No, the reason she is beloved is because we see her grow, make friends and find love, work past her fears and resolve to fight on in a never-ending war. Similarly, although we may look forward each week to a new Wesen on Grimm, what we enjoy most is seeing how protagonist Nick Burkhardt and his friends and family come to terms with the strange world around them and grow through their experiences, allowing themselves to meet the challenges that come their way. The butt-kicking and police action is secondary to the enjoyment of that growth, though the police stuff is fun to see as well.

(I’m really on a binge for shows with supernatural bents right now, aren’t I?)

So with all this in mind, I think the conclusion I’m trying to get to is that for a character to be considered strong, they must first be human, and prove it both to the reader and to themselves through the trials and tribulations they experience in the novel. And just like humans in the real world gain strength from overcoming the challenges that seem almost insurmountable or that test us in every way possible, so do our characters gain the strength that make us fall in love with them.

What do you think make for strong characters? What’s a character you consider a great example of one?

Creating An Acknowledgements Section

Plenty of books these days come with acknowledgements sections near the back, where the author lists everyone from research assistants (should you happen to have any) to agents (should you have one) to God (should you have one to worship). Not all novelists have them, but I find they are useful things to have. Not only do they show who was instrumental in the creation of the book, but they are also a great way of saying, “Thank you for helping me in the creation of my book. Without your part, this novel wouldn’t have been written and you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this”.

When I write acknowledgements sections in my books, I try to follow a few guidelines to make sure the sections are as nice, neat, and presentable as possible (though I sometimes forget my own rules. Nobody’s perfect). Here’s what I try to do:

1. Make a list of who to thank. You want to thank everyone who’s been instrumental in the creation, polishing, and publication of the book. Sadly, human memory is not as good as we’d like for it to be. So keep a list, so that when the time comes you won’t forget anyone.

2. Organize. I usually thank people starting with people who helped with research and writing, followed by editing, then publication. After those people, I thank my family and friends, and then I thank God. And finally I thank the reader, because honestly they deserve thanks for picking up my book and deciding to read it. It doesn’t generally have to follow this order, but keeping things organized in groups usually helps.

3. Sometimes I include a little story. One that relates to the main novel, of course. Maybe it’ll be about the process of writing, or maybe it’ll be about what created the main story of the novel in the first place. It depends upon the story in question. Of course, not every novel gets a story. The story of the novel can be enough sometimes.

Whether or not you include acknowledgements in your novels, knowing how to make one is always a handy skill. I hope you found this helpful in creating your own acknowledgements section (though if you did, you don’t have to acknowledge this blog or its writers in your next book. It’d be flattering, but it’s not what we’re here for).

Creating Character Names

What’s in a name? Contrary to what William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo & Juliet, a name can say a lot about you. Certain names have certain associations or ideas linked to them. A character’s name can excite, terrify, or bore a reader (can you imagine Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes sounding interesting if their names were Roger Wilkes or Hugh Liddell? I can’t). There’s a reason why parents obsess so much over a baby’s name. They know that, one way or another, the name they give their baby will have an effect on it. And as the parents of our characters, we authors go through a lot of work to decide on names for our characters.

Occasionally though, we end up stuck for a name. We can’t think of one, no matter how hard we try. And if it’s an important character, we can’t proceed until they have a name. So what do we do? I have some ideas on what to do in these situations:

1. Use a name dictionary. Plenty of bookstores carry books filled with the most popular baby names, as well as names you’ve never heard of and names you didn’t think could ever exist (ever hear of Grunka? Neither have I, but apparently it’s a girl’s name in Sweden). You can even find dictionaries for names that are sorted by region, by what years they were most in use, by sex, by culture, by just about anything you can think of. The possibilities are endless.

And if you need a striking last name, I’ve got just the thing: some universities have directories on their websites that allow students, faculty, and staff to find contact information much more easily (my wonderful Ohio State does, by the way). An unintended consequence of this is that it provides a great place for finding surnames for characters, especially since it’s a big school with students and teachers from every walk of life imaginable. Two characters from my upcoming novel Snake, Blake Harnist and Angela Murtz, got their family names right off of OSU’s directory. It’s also great for first names too (though I couldn’t find Grunka on there).

2. Look to history and literature. Ancient Greek history, the Bible, A Thousand and One Nights, the age of colonization, Chinese folktales, Elizabethan England, philosophers throughout the ages. Any one of these is a great source for a character name. You never know what interesting name you’ll find among them that could be just the perfect fit for a character. For example, one of the main characters from Snake, Allison Langland, got her last name from a contemporary of Shakespeare whom I read about in an English class back in 2012. The name fit everything I was looking for in Allison’s surname, and I ended up using it. And with these sources and so many more, there’s got to be some great names out there (just avoid using Oedipus if you can).

3. Look through a cemetery. As creepy as cemeteries can be, they make great places to find people’s names. JK Rowling said that she got the name of Gilderoy Lockhart partly from a gravestone. And you can find the most interesting names in a cemetery: Hamoud, Earps, Rosen, Kraczynski, MacBannon, Chang, Gupta, Owusu. And that’s just last names! Imagine what you can find with first names, especially in an age when some parents like to give their kids very unique names.

4. Name a character after someone you know or admire. The nicest thing an author can do for someone sometimes, besides dedicating a book to them or listing them in the acknowledgements section, is to name a character after them. It makes a great gift, and you can even model the character or make them a parody of the person being named. It can almost be like an inside joke between you two.

Just be careful whom you name your characters after: sometimes if you name a character after someone you know, they may feel entitled to tell you as the author what they think of “their character”. For example: “my character does what, exactly?” “My character would never say this or flirt with that sort of person!” “Why the heck is my character a ginger?”

5. Use a name you dislike. Granted, you hate the name and would at the very least hesitate before using it for a character. But in situations where the naming of a character is proving difficult, using a name you dislike might be worth it. For example, I dislike naming my characters Jack or John (no offense to anyone who is actually named Jack or John, it’s just that those names are used too much, so I tend not to use them). However if I was sutck on a name and I thought Jack or John might work with my character, I’d use it.

I would probably never use Bella though. Stephanie Meyer kind of ruined that name for me.

6. Derive a name from another language. In many languages, people’s names are the same or similar to words reflecting plants, animals, objects, events, or concepts. You could name a character after the Hebrew word for mystery (“Taloma”) or the Japanese word for island (“Shima”). You can also take names from dead languages or languages that aren’t used much anymore. What would be the Latin, ancient Egyptian, or Yiddish word for something you believe describes your character? You never know until you find out.

7. Just make up something new. I believe I said earlier that parents are starting to name their kids in very unique ways (“Apple”, “Brick”, “Bronx Mowgli”, and “Tripp” come first to my mind). You could make up something new and interesting for your character, especially in a fantasy or science fiction story. Use random syllables or sounds and see what comes together. I’m pretty sure that’s how they named most of the characters in Star Wars, anyway.

However you end up naming your characters though, it’s up to you to figure out what is the right name for them and yours alone. So remember to have fun with it and not get too worked up about it. If you dislike a character’s name after a while, you can always go back and change it if you want to. I’ve done that before, and I’m sure I’m not the first author to do so. Nor will I be the last, either.

Happy naming, everyone.

When Trolls Attack!

You know, that sounds like the title for one of those B-movie horror films that are played at three in the morning. When Trolls Attack! “Don’t cross that bridge. You may not like who wants you to pay the toll!”

But all kidding aside, internet trolls are a hot topic as of late. With the anonymity of the internet to protect them, trolls go skulking around the forums and the discussion groups and the blogs and Twitter, using threats, name-calling, false reviews, and a plethora of other despicable tools at their fingertips for just one purpose: to hurt the targets of their e-bile. Authors seem to be a special target for these trolls. Get on the wrong side of one and they will take great pleasure in trying to bring down the rating of your books or leave hurtful comments on your blog.

And the world has not let this phenomenon go unnoticed: thousands of authors, self-published and traditional, large and small, have signed petitions trying to get Amazon and other retailers to take measures against the intentionally hurtful reviews trolls leave behind (I’m happy to have signed one myself). Authors like Anne Rice have taken to Facebook to encourage others not to be discouraged and to fight back against trolling. Articles have been written on blogs and in newspapers and magazines, and a recent study on trolls has come out, confirming what we already know about them: that the people who engage in troll behavior are “everyday sadists” who enjoy cruelty and seeing others in pain.

Yes, we are fighting the trolls as well as coming to understand them. However, it can still be pretty traumatic when a troll decides to target you. If, God forbid, one should set their sights on you, here are some tips in order to hopefully mitigate the damage and maybe even fight back:

1. Take a deep breath. If a troll leaves a nasty review on Amazon or a cruel comment on your blog, take a moment to calm down. Remember, trolls will target just about anyone, and what one is doing to you isn’t out of any personal grudge. So take a deep breath, get a cup of tea, do whatever you have to do to calm down and approach this rationally. When you’ve calmed down, talk to someone about it if you need to, preferably someone who understands the effects bullying can have on others.

Once you’ve calmed down a bit, the next step is to:

2. Create a record of the trolling. Even if the post or comment or review isn’t threatening or violent, it’s good to keep a record of the harassment. If this same troll keeps coming back to make you a victim, you cn use your record to prove there’s a history of harassment and fight back.

3. Try to get rid of the post, if possible. Once you have a record, you can delete the false review or cruel comment if you want. I certainly would, if I felt that it was in my interests. It might take a little work, but you can even get Amazon to get rid of a review made by a malicious bully.

4. If the harassment continues or starts to get threatening, don’t be afraid to contact the authorities. I know some people might be wary of approaching the police or contacting a lawyer, especially if the harassment is restricted to the Internet. However, not fighting back only encourages a troll, and no one should make you feel uncomfortable, especially not some coward who hides behind a keyboard to hurt others. So if the bullying doesn’t stop, and if it starts getting threatening, don’t hesitate to take action to protect yourself.

Now, sometimes those in the authorities will hear that this is happening on the internet, and will immediately stop listening. To them, you might as well be talking about Wonderland, Atlantis, or the planet Raxicoricofallipatorius, crazy talk that has no bearing on the real world. If this happens, don’t get discouraged. Ask for the supervisor, talk to a lawyer. Keep pushing, because this is your safety and your mental health at stake.

5. Fight back. Once you’ve taken care of yourself, it’s time to fight back. Talk aobut your experiences, advocate for ways to control or stop what trolls do. Signing that petition is one way. And remember, you are not alone. Other people have experienced trolling and survived. You can all band together and work together to stop the continued persecution that internet trolls revel in.

Now, I’ve never experienced trolling personally (and I hope this post doesn’t lead to me experiencing it). But I’ve talked and spoken to and heard from people who have been attacked by trolls, heard how they reacted and I’ve taken what I’ve learned from them to form this article. If anything I’ve said sounds inaccurate or like a bad idea, I do apologize for my inexperience and naiveté.

But if this post helps in any way to fight against trolling and makes it easier for you to deal with their sadistic tendencies, then I am glad to have been of some sort of service. Because if we wish for the world to change, we must be the agents of the change in the world. Nothing’s going to get done unless we do it, and I’m just trying to do my part.

Doing An Excerpt

Have you ever been excited for a new book and gone on an Internet search when you hear there’s an excerpt of it online? Or have you ever just finished reading a book, really enjoyed it, and found the first chapter of the sequel near the end?

Excerpts are great ways to get people interested in your upcoming work as well as work that’s already out there. For each of my books, I make sure to put up an excerpt on my blog prior to publication so that people can see what they’ll be getting should they decide to buy the book. And depending on what portion of your book you use for your manuscript, you can possibly increase your sales tremendously.

But which portions do you pick for your excerpts? Here’s some tips that might help:

1. Should you use the first chapter? Some writers out there reading this will say “Of course you use the first chapter! What else would you use?” That might not always be the best option, though. Take a Stephen King novel: sometimes it takes several pages (occasionally several hundred pages) before things get interesting. And an excerpt is supposed to be interesting. So if your novel is about a haunted house and your first chapter just involves your main character sipping coffee in an outdoor café in Paris and meting one of his fans, it might not be the best choice for an excerpt. (It would be how King might open a novel of his, knowing him).

But if your first chapter is interesting enough that it will entice the reader into reading the story, go for it and use it for an excerpt. If not, then you’ll have to choose a different section of the novel. Now how do you choose that section?

2. Find a section that’s the right level of interesting. What do I mean by this? If you ever watch a late-night talk show (The Daily Show comes first to my mind) and an actor is one of the guests, they will usually play a clip from their latest film. If it’s an action film, then they’ll play a clip with the actor’s character in a bit of a jam. It won’t be a clip from the climax or something that reveals too much about the plot, but it’ll be enough to make viewers wonder what the heck led to this situation, how the character will get out of it, and what will happen after that. If it’s a romance, then it’ll be right as something juicy is about to happen but the clip will end before that juicy thing can happen. If it’s a horror story, the clip will depict a tense moment right before something happens and will end right before the biggest scare yet occurs.

I guess one could call this method “feeding the fans a little bit and making them want more.” It’s quite effective and marketers use it all the time for movies and TV (you should have seen me when I saw a clip from an upcoming episode of this show I like. I freaked out and couldn’t wait to see it on Sunday). And if you can translate the above concept into literature, you can have a wonderful recipe for choosing excerpts.

Now just two more items to recommend:

3. Brevity is sometimes better. I find the best length is somewhere between two-thousand and five-thousand words. Remember, you want to give the readers just enough to get them very interested and make them want to read even more. The best reaction you can get from a reader is “Wait, that’s the end? I want more!” So having a short excerpt can work very well for getting that sort of reaction, especially if the scene in the excerpt is very well-written and has a good hook to it.

And finally…

4. Wait for the final draft to give out an excerpt. The final draft is the stage of the novel when you’ve done all the edits you can and can’t do any more. What you have is the final product and changing anything might be doing the work a disservice. It’s the perfect draft to draw an excerpt from as well. And it’s better than doing an excerpt from a draft with plenty of grammatical or spelling errors or something. Am I right?

Do you have any tips for creating an excerpt? What are they?

Taglines

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

“In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

“Who you gonna call?”

Hopefully not the grammar police. Especially not for that last one. That’s a class-A spelling felony.

The statements above are recognizable to plenty of fans of science fiction and comedy-horror. They are the taglines for famous franchises: Star Wars, Alien, and Ghostbusters. And just saying them brings to mind billions of images, along with associations with and overwhelming emotions of heroism, friendship, screwball comedy, terror beyond imagination, and the possibility that anything is possible.

Based on all that, one could say that taglines are a great promotional tool. and if you aren’t lucky enough to have a publicist, coming up with the tagline for your novel or other creative work usually falls to the author. And it’s important to come up with a great, memorable tagline for your story. Doing so accomplishes two things.

  1. Before the book is even read, it intrigues the reader enough to find out more. Hopefully their investigation to find out more means they’ll ultimately read your book.
  2. After the book is read, the tagline (hopefully) evokes memories of flipping through the pages, wanting to know what happens next; of heroics and romance and terror and joy and characters so vivid, you’d swear they were real.

So with that goal in mind, here are some tips to creating a great tagline that will (hopefully) pull in more readers and create great associations with the book for the fans. And if nobody objects, I’ll use the tagline for my upcoming novel Snake: “How far will you go for love and revenge?”

Short, simple statements are the best. The tagline for Snake, as well as the ones I used at the beginning of the article, are all one sentence. This works to the advantage of the book, because it is easy to remember and easy to repeat. And if it’s easy to remember and easy to repeat, it’ll be more likely to be remembered and repeated. Look no further than “Who you gonna call?” for proof.

The statement evokes something in the mind of a reader. When I was writing the back cover blurb and the tagline for Snake, I wanted it to at least get potential readers interested. However, a novel where the serial killer is the main character can be…a little frightening. Somewhat off-putting. I wanted to emphasize that the main character had good intentions, even if his methods were reprehensible. So I asked myself what would I want to emphasize about the Snake in just a single statement? Well, he’s doing what he not out of any awful desires for murder. He’s doing it to save the love of his life, as well as get revenge on the ones who kidnapped her. How can I use that? Well…maybe I can phrase it as a question.

It worked. “How far will you go for love and revenge?” struck me as thought-provoking. It makes you think, “Well, I might go so far. Is the novel about someone who will go farther?” It’s why it’s the first sentence in the back cover blurb, the first image you see in the book trailer I created for it, and what I’ve been using in most of the advertising I’ve done for Snake. Hopefully it entices a few people to read it.

Get a feel for taglines. Most of all, one has to get a feel for taglines, see what works and what doesn’t work. What taglines make you excited, scared, weepy? What just make you feel disappointed? Ultimately, coming up with a tagline, just like creating a story and everything else in the business of writing and publishing, is taking in the work of those before us, and practicing and practicing until you get a feel for what works for you.

Now, you don’t need to have a tagline for your novel. As far as I’m aware, Harry Potter, anything by Stephen King, and the Bible never needed taglines. Their names and authors are enough to get their stories to millions and millions of people. But taglines are helpful. They’re great marketing tools and in some cases they can become a part of our culture and part of our fondest memories (ask any Trekkie about the phrase “Boldly go where no one’s gone before”). And the best part of being a self-published author is that you, as the author, get to create your very own tagline.

What is your favorite tagline? What are some you’ve created for your own stories?

Stuck For An Idea?

We’ve all been there at some point or another. We want to write, but nothing comes to us. Everything that does come to mind seems trite, boring, maybe even repetitive or used up. At times we stare at the blank page for hours on end, willing an idea for a story or a poem or an article to come to us. When nothing comes, we doubt ourselves as writers and we wonder if maybe we’ll never have a good idea again.

The good news is, there are ways to get the creative juices flowing again. And none of them involve sitting in front of a computer or notebook for hours hoping an idea will just pop up. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of worrying about the problems you are dealing with, psychologists recommend finding something else to focus on. It’s not entirely clear why, but when the mind is unfettered and is free to roam or hone in on something other than a problem you’re dealing with, a solution often presents itself to you just when you least expect it.

When I’m stuck for an idea or experiencing writer’s block, I do anything but focus on the problem at hand for hours at a time. I’ll work on a blog post or another story. I’ll watch TV or read a good book. And if ideas don’t come after all that, I often find just going about my daily life is an inspiration. Some of my best ideas for stories occur during the semester. While at work or in my classes, a random thought, sometimes related to my coursework or the project I’m doing and sometimes not, will pop into my head and grab my attention. From that thought I can develop an idea, which turns into a story or article of some sort.

A great example of this happened in class a couple of weeks ago. During a discussion, one of my classmates made a comment about the Soviet Union in World War II and about D-Day. What he said so captivated me that it ended up being the foundation for a series of novels taking place in a dystopian communist nation (no idea when I’ll write them, but the fact is, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with them if I hadn’t been in that class on that day having that discussion and hadn’t seized on the thought when I least expected an idea to come to me).

Plenty of other authors are able to come up with ideas the same way, whether by taking classes, working, volunteering in the community, or finding some other hobbies or interests that occupy their time and allow the creative processes in their brains to do what they do naturally rather than being forced to produce something. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you try finding story ideas this way.

And if you do have an idea while pursuing this method, I highly recommend writing it down immediately. I write down all my ideas so that I don’t forget them, which Im prone to do. I even bought a little notebook the other day so I can write down ideas as they come to me and then put them down on a list on my flash drive when I’m at a computer so that I’ll remember them when I want to write them. (I used to just write on the back of my hand, but I’m kind of tired of seeing a bunch of ink scribbles covering my left hand.)

Writing from the Heart

People say I should write about my autistic children, and I have to some extent in my best of year book, Seasons of the Soul. However, there are stories I keep in my heart about them, especially my youngest high-functioning, verbal son.

I could write a book about the days and nights my husband and I sat on pins and needles not knowing what his behavior would be like. Praise God! He is better and now lives in a group home. We see him twice a week. All is well but I cannot tell you how difficult it is for a mother with a special-needs child to let them go. To tell you the truth, just writing about it here is heartbreaking.

So, when others tell you to write about certain topics, don’t do it if it is not in your heart. I knew if I shared our story (which could help others) opened up our family to the public, and the publicity could hurt my disabled son.

Recently, I heard about an author who wrote teen novels but her heart was not in her work. She now is entering a new genre – one she is comfortable with in pursuing.

Many years ago I heard this man on the radio. He would advise listeners on business and recommended to callers to not choose a profession based on the money you could earn but, instead, go with your passion. If your love is writing, then write or whatever else interests you. Of course, there are times you need that paycheck but do not forgo your passion.

Author Stephen King was a teacher and pursued his writing in his downtime. He started with short stories before his novels were published, and he became a household word. Nothing comes overnight.

I laugh when I think about my first book. I was so excited and thought everyone in my community would line up around the block for my book signing. I had a good turnout, but it never matched my expectations.

You have to work for what you get. No one is going to give you anything. I just wish some young people would realize that. Anything done well takes time.

Coming from a journalism background, I had to learn the technique of writing fiction. Think about it. A journalist reports what happens. He does not include emotional reactions, such as her heart raced as she climbed the dark-narrow stairs. A reporter only reports what he sees and hears.

So learning how to write fiction was like going from night and day – two totally different arts. But my education has not stopped, I continue to hone my craft each day. You need to persevere.

But you also need to be realistic. If you are writing poetry, the odds of becoming a poet laureate are not good. However, what you can become is a poet who reaches someone’s soul or uplifts them. My one sister-in-law writes and makes her own birthday cards. Each line of poetry rhymes, but what is amazing is how she captures that relative’s personality. We look forward to these cards and they warm our hearts. Remember not all value is monetary. Sometimes it inspires others, provides comfort and helps ease their pains. This is what my books, Seasons of the Soul, and Lockets and Lanterns, have done, according to people who purchased my books.

In closing, remember to write what is in your heart. Nothing is quite as satisfying as to pursue your passion whether on a part-time basis or a full-time effort. God bless.

Some Tips For WattPad Users

I’ve been using WattPad for the past couple of weeks, and I thought that an article about it would be fun to write. Also, I found out this blog doesn’t have an article on WattPad yet, so I thought I’d break the ground and do a piece on it.

Throughout this article, I will try to give some sound advice on using WattPad and possibly getting some success through it. If any WattPad users have any additional tips they would like to…well, add in, please let us know. I’ll do a follow-up article with your words of wisdom.

So, first things first: What is WattPad? WattPad is a website where writers can upload and share stories with the public. It’s been in operation since 2006 and it’s been nicknamed the YouTube of storytelling. Writers can upload stories, gain feedback, create covers, and enter contests with their short stories or novels.

What sort of work is published on WattPad? Just about anything is published on WattPad. Novels, novellas, short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, of all types and genres. Science fiction, fantasy, and YA stories tend to be the most popular, with horror and romance in a close second. There’s also a sizable amount of erotic fiction on the site, though I haven’t personally browsed that in any great detail. And technically erotica isn’t allowed on the website, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

Is it possible to get success through WattPad? Depends on what you mean by success. It is possible to spread your work to other writers and readers, maybe get feedback, and learn something from other writers by both reading and being read. And it is also possible to get the success that every author only dreams about (there’s an example of that in a recent issue of TIME magazine), but like anything in fiction, that is very hard to achieve and what can cause it is very difficult to predict.

How do you spread your work through WattPad? Tags and categorizing your work is very important, because it allows people with similar interests to search out and find your stories (and on that note, make sure to also rate your short stories appropriately. At the very least, an R-rating might deter some nine-year-old from reading a wildly inappropriate story). Also, networking with other authors, commenting on their stories, and even recommending works to authors you make friends with can be very helpful.

What are some ways to keep your readers interested in your work? Besides having interesting work, there are a couple of ways. One is to post frequently new stories or updates. Another is to post a novel on the site, but to do it in serial form. Posting new chapters on a regular basis keeps our readership up and it keeps them wanting to know more (especially if you end every chapter on a cliffhanger).

Should one copyright their work before posting? Well, that depends. Copyrights cost money and take time to process, so if you don’t mind waiting and shelling out money for the fees, then by all means get copyrights. At the very least, you should get copyrights for novels or for works you plan to sell in the future, and do it before you post it on WattPad.

I should also mention that WattPad allows users to post whether a story is copyrighted or not, so take advantage of that when you post a story. It could be seriously helpful.

If you publish a story on WattPad, can you put it on your resume as a publication? Again, that depends. This is a website where anyone can upload a story, so whether or not you want to include uploading stories onto an author’s YouTube on your resume is up to you. Some authors are comfortable, some aren’t. I know a few of both. If you are comfortable with it though, then only do it for stories that you’ve never published before in any way, shape, or form. And if you’re shopping for a publisher, definitely don’t do it!

What are these contests through WattPad you mentioned earlier? Wattpad holds a number of contests throughout the year. Most are small, but there are some big ones, including the Wattys, which are held once a year, and the Attys, which are for poetry and were started by author Margaret Atwood (yeah, she’s on the site. How cool is that?). The contests are open to all users with a WattPad account and who follow the rules of those contests.

If you are a regular WattPad user and have any other tips you’d like to mention, then please let us know. If I get enough tips, I’ll do a follow-up article on the subject with your tips in it.