Great Stuff for Writers, June 17, 2013

Quite a collection in today’s Great Stuff. There’s the Hero’s Journey, Niccolo Macchiavelli, who was probably not a hero, Aunt Edna, who might or might not have been one, and a cadaver or two. All in the service of writing. Plus foreign rights agents, dirty talk, and much more. Dive in!


Gregory Ciotti’s (@GregoryCiotti) Copyblogger post, What a Notorious 16th-Century Philosopher Can Teach You About Content Marketing Today, might seem to have nothing to do with creative writing, given that its target market is the business blogger. That seeming would be wrong. Niccolo Macchiavelli’s The Prince was controversial, sure, and it’s the book he’s most remembered for, but what’s important to us short story and novel writers is how he used controversy to stir—and maintain—interest in what he had to say. Thought-provoking.

Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) on why you want to “show” and not “tell” in your fiction: “If you find yourself summarizing important or potentially juicy scenes, stop and reevaluate what you’re doing. Whatever your reason, it’s not good enough. Readers are reading your book because of these scenes. They want to experience them. They want to see your characters growing and reacting.” (Emphasis hers.) Is Your Story Suffering From the “Montage Effect”?

When Lisa Cron (@lisacron) asserts, and then explains Why the Hero’s Journey Is a Tourist Trap, she’s not ragging on Joseph Campbell, she’s saying that the Hero’s Journey, and all other story structures, are not what makes for a good story, and especially not a great one. Structure comes from story, not the other way around. By focusing on the problem the protagonist has to confront, and how he or she does that, the story, and hence the structure, will be revealed.

If you’re writing fiction, do you worry about being sued because one of your characters is based on you batty Aunt Edna? In Write Who You Know (?), Clare Langley-Hawthorne discusses the practical realities—not the legal ramifications—of basing a character on a real person. While it’s important to consider those consequences, the good news is that more than likely, your characters will be composites of many people and anyone you might have chosen as a model will never recognized the traits you chose.

Jan O’Hara (@jan_ohara) makes a strong case for closely studying well-written works—and provides the technique she used to do so—in The Cadaver Wore Text (aka the Case for Plot Dissection). What makes the case so strong? Without naming the books she studied, she shows how they failed to be perfect while being excellent and what she learned from that.


Who wouldn’t want to see their novel not just sold in foreign countries, but translated into those countries’ native languages in order to reach an even wider audience? Foreign rights agent Marleen Seegers (@2SeasAgency) discusses what she does and how she does it in Foreign Rights Agents: Everything You Need to Know (& Why You May Want One!). While her work specifically relates to traditionally published work, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the translation market keep expanding for indie publishers and ebooks too.

Having trouble connecting with readers or imagining who your readers will be? Toni Tesori (@duolit) suggests in How to Connect With More Readers in Just 5 Minutes that you focus on just one (ideal) reader. The idea isn’t new but the point behind it is simple: out of the hundreds of millions of potential readers out there, there won’t be just one reader who is like the one you imagine, but many. But imagining one is far easier than trying to imagine a lot, so this technique will help you focus your efforts better.


While I think—I think—Keith Cronin (@KeithCronin) was writing tongue-in-cheek when he offers a formula for calculating your work’s Potty Mouth Index in Talk Dirty to Me, the piece really isn’t about his, or his characters’ language, or yours, or even about whether strong language is necessary and appropriate in any particular piece, but about how readers react to it and whether or how writers should react to their reactions. It’s a question that has no single right-for-everyone answer, just your own decision and your willingness to live with the negative feedback it’s sure to bring if one of your characters says a naughty word.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks, Does a bear shit in the woods?, when you’re asked by Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland), Are You Over-Thinking Your First Draft?, then her post is for you. You probably know this intuitively already: thinking too much about a first draft is a sure way to produce a crappy one. Giving yourself permission to produce a less-than-perfect first draft—to NOT think too much about it as you’re writing it—knowing that fixing it is what editing is for, will not only end the pain and make writing fun again, it’ll make the quality of that first draft better too.


I could have split Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) Book Expo 2013: Trends and Highlights into two pieces, one up in the Business section and the other down here, but since I like to put these things in just one place, and because the part I want to emphasize is the fun part, it goes here. The fun part is Gabriela’s description of meeting former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins and the links to two of his poems, “Introduction to Poetry” and “Workshop.” “Introduction” is just that, and easy and friendly. “Workshop” is a wry take on one workshopper’s review of a poem that exists only in Collins’ mind. Anyone who’s critiqued poetry—or tried to—will get it, and smile.

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