Great Stuff for Writers, April 29, 2013

Frantically trying to get caught up after spending the last 3 days volunteering with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, something I do every year to honor the memory of a friend of mine who was killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building here. I’ve been a part of the event every year, as a volunteer, runner, or both, and this year was even honored with a profile interview in The Oklahoman, the city’s newspaper, even if the writer did misspell my name.

But enough of that! This is a writing blog! There’s lots of Great Stuff included this week: foreshadowing, characters who pop, pitching, the benefits of writing short fiction, book marketing, the value of reviews, burnout, learning from writing, and even some fun: one 2-year-old’s takes on books based on their covers. All that and more is waiting for you below.

CRAFT

We all want our characters, especially our protagonist and antagonist, to stand out. But how to do it without going over the top or descending into cliché? Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) offers A Simple Trick for Making Your Characters Pop: add one or two details that contrast with the rest of his or her personality. They don’t have to be huge but so long as you can show that they make sense in the context of the character’s overall life and personality, you’ve just made them memorable.

We all want feedback that helps us get better, and that’s what Kathleen Pooler (@kathypooler) got, from perhaps the best but most intimidating sources: real agents, editors, and publishers. Still, How Practicing My Pitch Helped Me Write a Better Book on DIY MFA illustrates how the right attitude can turn a not-ready-for-prime-time draft into something that just might make it.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from writing short stories,” writes Suzanna Windsor Freeman (@Writeitsideways) in What Novelists Should Know About Short Fiction on Writer Unboxed, “is the art of subtlety: how to be less obvious with symbolism or themes, how to choose subtle titles, and when it’s better to leave things unsaid.” She says more, but that’s enough.

Before you can know How to Use Foreshadowing, you have to know what it is, what its component pieces are, and how it differs from telegraphing an event and from foreboding. Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) takes care of all of that in this post, which, by the way, is an example of telegraphing.

Yikes! Michael Swanwick isn’t kidding when he calls the following A Brutal Test for Your Fiction. It comes straight from early 20th Century humorist Stephen Leacock, who was, as best I can tell, dead serious when he wrote this: “Remove a page from the middle of your work.  Set it aside.  Then read the page before it and the page after.  Can you reconstruct what happened in that page?  Then your work is mediocre at best.” (Italics Swanwick’s.)

BUSINESS

Think book reviews don’t matter… or don’t matter much? Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) traces how they influence future purchases in Book Reviews Matter: Thank You For Taking the Time. Long story short: they matter—a lot.

We haven’t talked about press kits much here, at least not recently, so Nigerian-born British author Tolulope Popoola’s (@TolulopePopoola) Book Marketing: Creating Your Author Press Kit on The Creative Penn provides a handy summary of the four parts of a good kit. One note: Popoola says the press release should be “brief and sucking”! Must be a British-ism. I presume that means attention-getting or informative.

With the success and influence of Guy Kawasaki’s book Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, you’d think Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) was being a crazy woman when she writes Why You Don’t Need to Be an Author Entrepreneur. She’s not. She’s acknowledging that complete entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but at the same time, we all do need to be entrepreneurial, that is, looking for—and taking advantage of—opportunities to get our work in front of more people through partnerships, new business models, and new technologies.

THE WRITING LIFE

I hope this never happens to you, but Barbara O’Neal’s (@barabaraoneal) Boundaries and Burnout hit really close to home. I’ve been feeling that burn and not in a good way. Fortunately, some tasks I’ve been working on are now done but others await. And there will come a point where, like Barbara, I have to say no or stop doing certain things or save them for later.

In Here’s What I’m Learning From This One, John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact) announces he’s conquered his fear of writing, and encourages you to do the same. A few truths stand out: “The more words I write, the better I get at writing more words” and “To be a writer is to be emotionally authentic on the page.”

FUN

In Robert Bruce’s (@robertbruce76) My 2-Year-Old Judges Books By Their Covers, that’s exactly what we get… but that’s not all. Of course, a 2-year-old isn’t going to get all the symbolism and summary and meaning that a cover artist tries to fit into a cover and still have it make sense; this piece isn’t about that. It’s about the cute things kids will say when given an unusual prompt. But it does also make the point that a puzzling, unclear cover doesn’t help a prospective reader decide to read the book.

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