Am I Doing this Right? – The shape of storytelling today

MJ Moores

Last night, for the first time in a long time, I seriously asked myself, in relation to my writing, “Am I doing this right?”  

And I was legitimately concerned.

Now, I’m not talking about the mechanics of SPaG (spelling, punctuation, and grammar), nor am I talking about word smithing (strengthening vocabulary, reducing filter words, and the like). I’m not even concerned about the structure of story (plot, tropes, setting, character…).

What stopped me was VOICE.

My voice, my character’s voice, the voice of truth.

I shared the most recent version of the first chapter of my Victorian steampunk superhero series with my trusted critique group, and a line about a race other than mine disturbed a respected member.

To the innocent question, “How’s your wife?” My white, English inspector (high-ranking British police officer) replied, “She’s well. Keeping busy with charity and church work. Trying to save some African children or other this week.”

I did not include it as a racial slur. It was an off-hand comment to show how he didn’t really get into his wife’s business as long as it kept her happy.

I asked my group member what it was about the line that didn’t sit well with her, and she intoned that it, “Felt wrong. Was too abrasive considering the cultural revolution currently underway.”

Now, my immediate reaction was to justify why my character (and therefore I) chose to say this:

It’s Victorian England. In the 1800s in Britain, it was highly common for well-to-do white women to fundraise for various charities, including sending money and clothes to the less-fortunate children in third-world countries.

This is what they did.

I was not stating an opinion through my character, and I was not making social commentary regarding today’s cultural revolution.

I simply relayed a fact of history.

When I mentioned this, the woman stated, “I understand, but as writers we need to be sensitive to the current climate and respectful of change. If you were writing a strict historical novel, I don’t think it would have affected me the same way. But you’re writing fantasy, and as an author you have the ability to mold your world as you see fit – a line like this could easily give the wrong impression.”

I was taken aback. She didn’t intend to hurt my feelings or belittle my point of view. She simply stated her concerns for me to consider as a good critique group member should.

What hurt most about that statement wasn’t that I needed to be more conscientious about today’s cultural revolution, but that what I was writing wasn’t historical because it was steampunk. My brain immediately jumped to all the research I had been doing to make this series historically accurate and plausible as an alternate timeline where the only difference in the world was that in the year 1830 steam took precedence over electrical energy.

I researched the class system, the monarchy, the inventions, and the cultures in a part of nineteenth century Britain. So why was my writing suddenly shoved into the gas-light fantasy column when I very consciously sat it in historical science fiction?

On the drive home from our social-distanced critique meeting, I asked myself if I was doing this writing thing wrong. Was I devoting time to historical accuracy in my series for nothing? Was all steampunk viewed as fantasy and not alternate history? Had I just wasted two years of my life writing a series of stories that did not contain magic or make-believed elements, only to have it soundly thrust into the fantasy category simply because it deviated from natural history in the 1800s?

I had an hour-long drive and I thought carefully about our conversation and the implications of that one line.

As a human being, I believe we do a disservice to all people by ignoring the past and trying to sweep the unpleasant reality of what happened into some in-between space in time, so that we don’t upset or offend others. War happened. Slavery happened. Genocide happened. If we cannot speak of the truth of our history, then what hope do we have of moving forward for a better tomorrow and avoiding the mistakes of the past?

I drove down the highway looking at this from every angle possible, and carefully considered a webinar I attended about critical literary lenses given by LaQuette, a highly respected author of colour. Her seminar focused on writing outside your personal, generational, or cultural experience, and how that could be a treacherous road to travel for today’s author. She spoke about the reality of “best intentions” and how easy it can be to create problematic or harmful content when you’re unaware of what you don’t know. With regard to different viewpoints other than your personal lived history, she actually encouraged including diverse characters so long as writers did not attempt to write someone else’s story (#ownstories).

I started dissecting my character’s comment while keeping her wise words in mind.

Am I British?

            Yes, but I am only half British and I do not live in Britain nor was I alive in the Victorian era.

Is my character white?

            Yes, but he’s male and a police officer and his character is saddled with some of the highest privileges known in any century.

Is he condoning a negative cultural truth or stereotype?

No. He is simply stating a fact. His wife is helping less fortunate African children.

Is his tone condescending to Africans? Is he implying they require assistance from wealthy white people?

            No. His tone is implying that his wife is chasing yet another “cause” based on what society is dictating is the latest tragedy. He is not taking a stance either way on whether she is doing help or harm.

Could this innocent historical reference be misconstrued?

            Yes. As was already pointed out to me.

Can I improve this line so that it is not potentially problematic or harmful?

            Yes.

And that realization is what finally helped me realize that I wasn’t doing this writing thing “wrong”; that I could still be historically accurate and not gloss-over or hide a known truth. What it told me is that we are all still learning, and that my approach to the sentence could be more representative of the character, who is not racist, per se, but who is realistic about the world he lives in.

It also showed me I should look into some sensitivity readings of the line, and the character, to make sure I’m doing due diligence and not simply making assumptions that could inadvertently hurt or hinder a person or a cultural revolution.

One line.

One reference.

More than one truth.

And this is why I read my work to a critique group I trust and respect. This member’s honesty forced me to analyze why I was making certain choices in my writing and how those choices might affect readers.

I am not “doing this wrong” by any means. If I had shut her down and continued to believe what I assumed was “right”, then I would be doing it wrong. By keeping an open mind and digging deeper into both her and my own reaction, I was able to suss out a course of action to help improve my craft. And for that, I am grateful.

Kia Dennis Tells Us What She Did with Her WCYR Grant

As a recent transplant to Ontario, I was thrilled to find WCYR and attend my first meeting in February 2020 (you know, way back when people left their homes and congregated in groups. Those were the days!) I met several interesting writers, learned a ton about how to make money self-publishing, and discovered WCYR writing grants.

As a crime writer, there are several conferences each year I yearn to attend, although budget constraints usually limit me to one, if that. This year I had planned to attend ThrillerFest with the publishing grant from WCYR, however, I was fortunate enough to win a free pass to the conference. Instead, due to the grant, I was finally able to attend the Writer’s Police Academy virtual conference. It’s usually held in Wisconsin over a long weekend, and a significant expense.

At the conference, I learned a great deal about police and forensics work, as well as the many other professionals that law enforcement calls upon in a police investigation. I also connected with several new authors, one of which I’d already virtually met at ThrillerFest a month earlier. Although WPA is usually very hands on, the instructors did a great job providing visuals and some live demonstrations, including showing the conference goers how to lift fingerprints from a variety of surfaces. The virtual conference format made it possible for me to attend this year, but only increased my desire to attend the conference in person once things get back to normal.

Kia Dennis has been a member of WCYR since January 2020. Her first book, Pursuit of the Truth, will be published by Harlequin Intrigue in February 2021. Learn more about Kia at www.kdrichardsbooks.com or on Twitter at @kiadwrites.

Interested in Applying for a WCYR Grant?

The grant application period runs from January 1 to April 30. Find out more about how to apply here.

Slaying the Synopsis with MJ Moores

Creating a synopsis is about getting your entire manuscript down to one page. MJ Moores provided us with her expertise. A synopsis must be thorough, as agents want to see the whole story, including the ending. Beyond just telling the story, agents want to see what makes the story special or original. They don’t expect to see an entirely original piece, as there are expected tropes for every genre, but each book should have something special.

MJ not only guided attendees through the slaying of the synopsis, she also showed us why agents want a synopsis before investing their time in reading an unpublished novel. Agents want to ensure that there are no obvious plot holes. What are the main characters’ motivations? They want to get a sense of the primary conflict or subject of the story. Importantly, agents also want to assess the author’s ability to write and be confident that the author can follow guidelines.

There are three common methods for creating a synopsis, which MJ detailed. The first is the snowflake method, where you start small and build gradually. The second is the four-act character driven model, where are you start big then revise. The third is the three-act structure, where your break your story into building blocks. After detailing these three methods, MJ gave us the opportunity to create our own synopses. Once each participant had created the first line via the snowflake method, we were then encouraged to share and help our fellow writers in perfecting that line.

MJ also provided us with some very important tips. When creating your synopsis, avoid getting into subplots. Stick with the main plot/main character. You should also look at the impact character’s role. The impact character could be the mentor or best friend; it is the character that pressures the main character to change. There should be a light sprinkle of thematic consideration in the synopsis. Include your genre plot points. Don’t hold back! Reveal the ending, even if it is an unhappy one. Agents are not looking for a cliffhanger.

The synopsis is about balance. Show that you can craft a concise sentence. Use strong verbs, and make your genre clear. Don’t forget to follow the guidelines. MJ gave the group a lot of helpful information, we were lucky to have her.

Find MJ Moores at:
MJMoores.com
Facebook

Upcoming Events:

Subject Lines Save Bottom Lines with Holly Mortimer – October 18, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Querying, Twitter Pitches, and Contests with Farrah Heron – November 8, 1:00pm – 4:00pm

Writing Practise: How to Improve Your Writing and Your Creativity by Practicing Writing with Vicki Pinkerton – November 26, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

September 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Police Procedural

Ballard

1

The patrol officers had left the front door open. They thought they were doing her a favor, airing the place out. But that was a violation of crime scene protocol regarding evidence containment. Bugs could go in and out. Touch DNA could be disturbed by a breeze through the house. Odors were particulate. Airing out a crime scene meant losing part of that crime scene.

But the patrol officers didn’t know all that. The report that Ballard had gotten from the watch lieutenant was that the body was two to three days old in a closed house with the air-conditioning off. In his words, the place was as ripe as a bag of skunks.

There were two black-and-whites parked along the curb in front of Ballard. Three blue suits were standing between them, waiting for her. Ballard didn’t really expect them to have stayed inside with the body.

Up above, an airship circled at three hundred feet, holding its beam on the street. It looked like a leash of light tethering the circling craft, keeping it from flying away.

Ballard killed the engine but sat in her city ride for a moment. She had parked in front of the gap between two houses and could look out at the lights of the city spreading in a vast carpet …

Would you turn the page? Vote now.

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Writing Dialogue with Kim McDougall

Before we started this fantastic and educational writing dialogue workshop, the WCYR held the Annual General Meeting. Starting this September, at the beginning of our next season, there will be a new WCYR Board. Some board members are continuing on, joined by new members, all looking forward to growth in the WCYR. The current board thanks Elaine Jackson, the previous WCYR President and Board Advisor. Previous Board Chair, MJ Moores, looks forward to being the Board Advisor to the new Co-Chairs, Gary Mcgugan and Mit Gopaul.

During our brief AGM, the winners of the WCYR grants were announced. This year, the WCYR was able to award four grants, two in each category of publication and education. The winners of the 2020 WCYR grants are Kaya Denis, Loni Cameron, Craig Hodgins, and Kim McDougall. We look forward to hearing how they use their grants to further their writing journey.

“Drama is life with the dull bits cut out” – Alfred Hitchcock

Good dialogue has all the dull bits cut out. A writer wants dialogue to be realistic, but not too realistic. Dialogue should be important and interesting. Kim took us through making good dialogue to making great dialogue. We were also shown the difference between “dialogue tags” and “action tags,” and how they should be used. There are many different ways dialogue can be used in the story, to create emotion, to forward the plot, and to provide information – though avoid the info dump. A quick lesson in dialogue grammar was also provided, as well as useful information about “accent tags.”

Writing Dialogue was full of information about how much of the story is in the way characters speak. The writing of dialogue is vital to any story. Look at your favourite authors. How do they use dialogue? Do you notice their “dialogue tags?” Do they use “action tags?” Kim took us on a journey through dialogue and all the ways it can be used to make a story better.

Upcoming Events:

Sizzling Synopses with MJ Moores – August 13, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Writing Books With Page-Turning Tension with Molly O’Keefe – September 13, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Subject Lines Save Bottom Lines with Holly Mortimer – October 18, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Querying, Twitter Pitches, and Contests with Farah Heron – November 8, 1:00pm – 4:00pm

August 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Thriller

Chapter One

Jack Reacher caught the last of the summer sun in a small town on the coast of Maine, and then, like the birds in the sky above him, he began his long migration south. But not, he thought, straight down the coast. Not like the orioles and the buntings and the phoebes and the warblers and the ruby-throated hummingbirds. Instead he decided on a diagonal route, south and west, from the top right-hand corner of the country to the bottom left, maybe through Syracuse, and Cincinnati, and St. Louis, and Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque, and onward all the way to San Diego. Which for an army guy like Reacher was a little too full of Navy people, but which was otherwise a fine spot to start the winter.

It would be an epic road trip, and one he hadn’t made in years.

He was looking forward to it.

He didn’t get far.

He walked inland a mile or so and came to a country road and stuck out his thumb. He was a tall man, more than six feet five in his shoes, heavily built, all bone and muscle, not particularly good looking, …

Would you turn the page? Vote now.

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Regret Prevention: Using a Professional Editor

What could you do with a WCYR grant? How about hire a professional editor?

I’ve been working on a book for a long time. Very. Long. I spent three years thinking about it and making several unsuccessful attempts, and the next two years working on it between working at my other jobs. Getting a manuscript to the finish line can feel like a marathon. And the part of me that feels like it’s a miracle I got this far was not excited about marathon number two, which is the editing process.

Hiring a professional editor is worth every penny. For one thing, you don’t have to live with them, and they won’t be biased by their relationship with you. Editors are practiced at giving feedback that is constructive and truthful. It’s hard to hear that chapters you love need to be cut, or that the introduction you slaved over is three times too long. But your editor has a more global and less personal perspective than you do. They can save you from…you. 

Even though I sometimes edit for others, I believe editing is like hairdressing. You can’t see your own work objectively and there are layers you can’t reach by yourself. Even the best hairdressers get someone else to cut their hair.

How do you find a good editor?

First get clear on your intentions. What genre are you writing and who is your ideal reader?  Look for an editor who likes the genre and has experience working in it. Have a look through the acknowledgment pages of books you love. In our virtual world, you can easily work with someone at a distance. Referrals are an excellent way to find people. If you know other authors in your genre, ask them who they use. Editors Canada provides multiple resources, including a directory and job board, courses about editing, advice about hiring, and professional training for aspiring editors.

I found my editor by attending Writers Community of York Region and Writers Community of Durham Region events. I attended two of her workshops and decided that if I ever finished my book, she’d be the perfect fit for it. Although I have several friends who also edit, I deliberately chose someone who didn’t know me well, and who wasn’t familiar with the subject matter, because I wanted my book to be able to stand on its own. I wanted someone who was not well-versed in the subjects I covered, so that if I hadn’t explained things well enough, I would be called on it.

Getting clear about what you want from your editor is very important. Editors can provide many types of intervention. Substantive editing, for example, involves tackling issues of structure, argument (non-fiction), plot (fiction), and other “big-picture” problems. At the other end of the spectrum, copy-editing addresses issues of accuracy such as errors in spelling, word-choice and grammar. Depending on what you are writing, you may also want to hire a fact-checker, a proof-reader, or an editor with expertise in your subject. Obviously, budget will come into play, but I believe that the best way to ensure a book sells is to make sure that it’s high quality. When you’ve put years of time and effort into a manuscript, it’s worth investing some money to polish it. Some editors will do a paid sample chapter so that you can test out your compatibility without taking a large financial risk. They may also want to see a writing sample and synopsis before they give you a price and agree to take on your manuscript.

Beyond hiring the right person, a big part of the editing adventure is the commitment to do the work and make the recommended changes. It’s a lot of effort, and I’ve found that having to re-think and re-write isn’t nearly as much fun as drafting a new piece. But I’m also the kind of person who notices flaws and errors. Misspelled headlines in the newspaper make me crazy, so for me, it’s worth it to do the work now to save embarrassment later. I want to look back at this project in ten years’ time and say that I have no regrets.

July 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Historical Fiction

Chapter One

nurse

to suckle an infant

to bring up a child

to take care of the sick

The journey was no worse than she expected. A train from London to Liverpool; the steam packet overnight to Dublin; a slow Sunday train west to a town called Athlone.

A driver was waiting. “Mrs. Wright?”

Lib had known many Irishmen, soldiers. But that was some years ago, so her ear strained now to make out the driver’s words.

He carried her trunk to what he called the jaunting car. An Irish misnomer; nothing jaunty about this bare cart. Lib settled herself on the single bench down the middle, her boots hanging closer to the right-hand wheel than she liked. She put up her steel-frame umbrella against the drizzle. This was better than the stuffy train, at least.

On the other side of the bench, slouching so his back almost touched hers, the driver flicked his whip. “Go on, now!”

The shaggy pony stirred.

The few people on the macadamised road out of Athlone seemed wan, which Lib attributed to the infamous diet of potatoes and little else. Perhaps that was responsible for the driver’s missing teeth, too.

He made some remark about the dead.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The dead centre, ma’am.”

Lib waited, braced against the juddering of the cart.

He pointed down. “We’re in the exact middle of the country here.”

Flat fields striped with dark foliage. Sheets of reddish-brown …

Would you turn the page? Vote now.

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Freelance Tricks and Tips with Gail Mercer-MacKay

Ever Thought About Freelancing?

Freelance Tips and Tricks with Gail Mercer-MacKay was full of information. Gail brought it all, everything a prospective or working Freelance Writer needed to know.

Before Gail began, we heard about the WCYR events that are coming soon. The Annual General Meeting has been rescheduled to coincide with the “Writing Dialogue” webinar on July 12th. At this year’s AGM, the new Board will be announced, along with the grant winners. The WCYR is moving forward in a positive way with social distancing, by having workshops and seminars online. You can join the WCYR members-only group and have access to exclusive Q&A Facebook Live sessions with our speakers.

The WCYR does not usually have events during the summer, but this year, since most of us will be at home, there will be two online webinars: “Writing Dialogue” with Kim McDougall, and “Slaying the Synopses” with MJ Moores. For those who were part of MJ’s query letter workshop, you know there were lots of questions around the synopsis. MJ will be breaking it down for us.

Then it was time for Freelance Writer Tips and Tricks! Gail took us though the ups and downs of being a freelance writer. She made sure we knew this is not a “get rich quick” scheme. It takes hard work and dedication. Many freelancers still have a day job, because they need the financial security, but eventually, it could become a writer’s main source of income. The need for freelancers increased in 2007 during the economic meltdown. Companies didn’t want to hire people fulltime anymore, but marketing departments still needed writers. What they found in Gail, and other freelancers, were skilled storytellers. Good marketing follows the “hero’s journey;” this is why creative writers are good at freelancing. They can turn a product or its creator into a “hero.”

Gail showed us the freelance writer’s reality: job boards, lots of competition, the need to educate people, and limited time with marketers. A freelance writer must make their hero/star/focus look smart. The smartest. A couple of other tips: tech companies are a great place to look for work. Technology is always changing, so tech companies always need to write about it. You also don’t need to understand tech to create a journey. Be aware, though, that Microsoft Word is used 90% of the time. You will not be able to get away with just Google Docs.

Remember, it’s okay to be afraid! This is a frightening endeavour when you venture out and create your own business. Yes, it’s solitary, but you don’t have to be alone. There are many freelance communities. You can find them on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. Support each other, even if it’s just with an encouraging word or two. Gail was positive and informative, helping so many of us on our freelance writing journey.

Upcoming Events:

Writing Dialogue, with Kim McDougall, plus AGM – July 12, 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Slaying the Synopses, with MJ Moores – August 13, 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Open House: Writing Books with Page-Turning Tension, with Molly O’Keefe – September 13, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Subject Lines Save Bottom Lines: Building a Better Newsletter to Grow your Author Business, with Holly Mortimer – October 18, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Playing the Short Game #3: How to Make Your Short Fiction Work for You With Douglas Smith

Marketing Your Short Stories? It All Starts With Licencing.

So far, only Douglas Smith has won prestigious Canadian Aurora Awards for works in both official languages. During a June workshop, he highlighted this unique achievement to underscore a crucial link between short story licensing rights and dynamic marketing.

Beyond writing skills, prudent negotiation of Media, Language, Occurrence, Geographic, and Reversion licensing rights led to success in three markets and two languages.

Douglas understood the importance of each component of licensing rights—then took care to protect them. First, he negotiated English printing rights to a publisher for Canada only. Because he retained publishing rights outside Canada, he then found another publisher to translate and print his story in France. A Quebec firm noticed the French version of his story and negotiated second rights to print his story there. Voilà! A path opened to two awards and three printings of one short story!

Of course, the same work could have been licensed for English in the USA, for a Spanish market, an audio version, an eBook, or dozens of other combinations.

It’s all part of a process Douglas Smith likes to call “A Writer’s Magic Bakery”—having your cake and eating too. Once a writer deals with the tedium of learning and exercising short story licensing rights, the reward of selling those rights begins. With foresight, scrutiny, and a well-founded strategy, writers can sell the same story over and over again. More income. More exposure. More recognition.

In his book Playing The Short Game—How to Market & Sell Short Fiction, Douglas shares extensive knowledge he’s gained writing and selling short stories over more than two decades. He also provides strategic tips to use short stories as a stepping block to novels, working with traditional avenues, publishing yourself, creating collections of short stories, and winning recognition as a writer.

You can order the book at his website https://payhip.com/DouglasSmithWriter.

Under the Writing Guides tab, you’ll find print and eBooks. Use promotion code WCYR15 for a members’ discount. Douglas will also do a Facebook Live follow-up session on Thursday, June 25 at 7:00 p.m. If you missed this excellent virtual session or would just like to ask him more questions, join the discussion at https://www.facebook.com/groups/WCYRmemberscorner/

Upcoming Events

Please note, all upcoming events listed will be online. Pre-registration is required. Click on the links below for details.

Writing Dialogue Plus AGM with Kim McDougall – July 12, 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Sizzling Synopses with MJ Moores – August 13, 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Open House: Writing Books with Page-turning Tension with Molly O’Keefe – September 13, 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Write Better Faster with Maaja Wentz

Do You Want to Write Better?

Of course you do. Stories, ideas, thoughts – so many – swirling around inside of a writer’s mind, burning to escape. Maaja Wentz wants to help! Rescheduled and reformatted for online consumption, Maaja took us through her recommendations, tips, and tricks for how to Write Better Faster.

Maaja started by asking us a couple questions: Are you satisfied with what you’ve completed?

Have you lost your normal writing routine? My routine has definitely changed, and I know it has for a lot of other writers too. It’s okay to take a step back. Make sure you still enjoy what you’re doing. Love your writing! If you don’t love it, you are not going finish, and you won’t be writing better, faster.

One piece of advice Maaja gave us is to think about the number one problem you might be having. Then address it. Remember, find out what works for you and keep doing it. Look back at what your objective was, and keep that in mind as you continue to work.

Challenge yourself! Try the Ray Bradbury challenge: write a short story a week! You can’t write 52 bad stories. There is also the Three-Day Novel Contest, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and so many more writing challenges. Even if you don’t complete the challenge, you’ll still end up with a stack of writing. Trying these challenges will get you sitting in your writing chair more, which might be all you need to write better, faster.

Some people need deadlines. They need goals. Maybe the challenges aren’t enough. Look for submission calls: anthologies, journals, contests, and write to the deadline.

Perhaps through these challenges and deadlines, you’ll find the writing routine that’s right for you.

Upcoming Events

Playing the Short Game #3: How to Make Your Short Fiction Work for You with Douglas Smith – June 18 – 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Writing Dialogue Plus AGM with Kim McDougall – July 12, 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Sizzling Synopses with MJ Moores – August 13, 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Open House: Writing Books With Page-Turning Tension with Molly O’Keefe – September 13, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Querying about Queries with MJ Moores

MJ Moores

Our First Re-imagined Online Workshop!

Last month’s “Querying about Queries” was the first of the WCYR’s transformed online workshops. MJ gathered us together on the Cisco WebEx platform. After everyone connected (and some of the communication buttons were explained), MJ began.

One of the first things we learned about all query letters was one of the most important. When submitting to a publisher or agent read the guidelines. Go to their page, the agency guidelines page, the specific page of the agent, the publisher, whoever you are submitting to, and do your research. If you do not adhere to the guidelines, then nothing you have written in your query letter will matter, because that person will not read it.

If you follow the guidelines and an agent has your query letter in their hands (or on their screens), what’s next?

There are multiple parts to a good query letter and all of them deserve time and care. MJ broke down what needs to be included. The salutation, hook/logline, teaser/pitch, your bio, the closing, and your links. MJ led us through each part of the query letter, explaining the differences and why they were important. A few members of the group had MJ diving deep into the difference between the “hook” and the “blurb.” She explained what we should include in our bios, what was and wasn’t necessary. Closing remarks should be brief, and remember to say thank you! We were also reminded that one query letter doesn’t fit all. As each agent and publisher has different guidelines, likes, and dislikes, your query letter will need to change to capture their attention.

Upcoming Events

Please note, all upcoming events listed will be online. Pre-registration is required. Click on the links below for details.

Playing the Short Game #3: How to Make Your Short Fiction Work for You with Douglas Smith – June 18 – 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Writing Dialogue Plus AGM with Kim McDougall – July 12, 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Sizzling Synopses with MJ Moores – August 13, 7:00pm to 9:00pm

June 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Psychological Thriller

I

The body lay on a small square of carpet in the middle of the gun-room floor. Alec Chipstead looked around for something to put over it. He unhooked a raincoat from one of the pegs and, covering the body, reflected too late that he would never wear that again.

He went outside to see the vet off.

‘I’m glad that’s all over.’

‘Extraordinary how painful these things can be,’ said the vet. ‘You’ll get another dog, I suppose?’

‘I expect so. That’s really up to Meg.’

The vet nodded. He got into his car, put his head out of the window and asked Alec if he was sure he didn’t want the body taken away. Alec said, no, thanks, really, he’d see to all that. He watched the car move off, up the long, sloping lane that in those parts was called a drift, under the overhanging branches of the trees, and disappear round the bend where the pine wood began. The sky was a pale silvery-blue, the trees still green but touched here and there with yellow. September had been a wet month and the lawns that ran gently to meet the wood were green too. On the edge of the grass, where a strip of flower border separated it from the paved drive, lay a rubber ball dented with toothmarks. How long had that been there? Months, probably. It was a long time since Fred had been up to playing with a ball. Alec put it into his pocket. He walked round the house, up the stone steps onto the terrace and in by the french windows.

Meg was sitting in the drawing room, pretending to read Country Life

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May 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Murder Mystery

Bloody Mary

1 ½ oz. of vodka

4 oz. of tomato juice

1 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce

Several drops of Tabasco sauce

Shake well over ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass.

Add a celery stalk.

Prologue

“It would be easy to kill you while you sleep.”

He rolls onto his side and faces his wife, tangling his fingers in her hair. Her face is shrouded in a dried blue mask; an antiaging beauty product that has begun to peel. The moonlight peeking through the bedroom curtains makes her look already dead.

He wonders if other people look at their partners at night, peacefully dozing, and imagine killing them.

“I have a knife.” He brushes his fingertips along her hairline. “I keep it under the bed.”

Her lips part and she snores softly.

So ugly, especially for a model. All capped teeth and streaked hair.

He wedges his hand between the mattress and box spring and pulls out the knife. It has a large wooden handle, disproportionate to the thin, finely honed blade. A fillet knife.

He places it against his wife’s neck, gently.

His vision burs. The pain in his head ignites, a screw twisting into his temple. It tightens with every heartbeat.

Too many headaches in too many days. He should, will, tell the doctor. The six aspirin he took an hour ago haven’t helped.

Only one thing helps when the pain gets this bad.

He caresses her chin with the edge of the knife, shaving off some of the mask. Sweat rolls down his forehead and stings his …

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April 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Murder Mystery

Book One

A Call to Murder

Chapter I

The call had come at six-twelve precisely. It was second nature to him now to note the time by the illuminated dial of his electric bedside clock before he had switched on his lamp, a second after he had felt for and silenced the raucous insistence of the telephone. It seldom had to ring more than once, but every time he dreaded that the peal might have woken Nell. The caller was familiar, the summons expected. It was Detective Inspector Doyle. The voice, with its softly intimidating suggestion of Irish burr, came to him strong and confident, as if Doyle’s great bulk loomed over the bed.

“Doc Kerrison?” The interrogation was surely unnecessary. Who else in this half-empty, echoing house would be answering at six-twelve in the morning? He made no reply and the voice went on.

“We’ve got a body. On the wasteland—a clunch field—a mile north-east of Muddington. A girl. Strangulation by the look of it. It’s probably pretty straightforward but as it’s close …”

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