Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Future online courses


Here's what's coming up.

How to Write Fast workshops
Yosemite January 2015
Bigger Stories
From the Heart of Romance  9/1/14-9/26/14
Write Flash Fiction!
Savvy Authors 12/2/13-12/22/13
Applications and Tools for Writers
 Savvy Authors 11/18/13-11/24/13
Surviving NaNoWriMo
Lowcountry RWA  10/6/14 - 10/31/14  
Power Endings
Savvy Authors 2/3/14-2/16/14
Hacking: Pranksters, Soldiers, and Superheroes
Savvy Authors 6/30/14-7/14/14
The Perfect Setting
Savvy Authors 8/17/14-8/30/14

Note: Some of these may still too new to be listed on the sites. Also, there are many face-to-face courses available and listed on my website.

Hello, all

I don't usually promote my classes here, so this is an experiment.
I have two online courses coming up (Bigger Stories and How to Write Fast) – one
starts tomorrow. Would be happy to see some of you in either or both.

Bigger Stories
: May 1-29

Fire up your readers with twists, turns, shock, and awe. Learn how to demand
more from your characters and to create endings that buzz. Don't hold back. Find
out how to take you stories from good to great.

Lesson 1 Introduction.
Lesson 2 Breaking the Chains and Going Bigger. Getting out of your own way.
Lesson 3 Making Your Tale Epic. Premise, character, and story arc.
Lesson 4 Power Positions – Story Bites Reader. Focus, friends and real
Lesson 5 Beginnings for an ADD World. Attention must be paid – from page one.
Lesson 6 Twists and Turns That Will Leave a Mark. What's the worst that can
Lesson 7 Shocking Revelations. First, surprise yourself.
Lesson 8 Excruciating Details. Senses, settings, and special effects. Conflict,
oh yeah.
Lesson 9 Gut Check. Authenticity, the sadistic writer, and redlining emotion,
Lesson 10 Major Surgery. Merciless restructuring.
Lesson 11 Thrust into the Careless World. Titles as bait, urban myths, and
endings that buzz.
Lesson 12 Abuse of Power. When bigger isn't better, pulling back from the brink,
and the responsibility of the writer.
Lesson 13 Summary and open questions. Looking back and final fixes.

How to Write FAST: May 6 – May 31, 2013

Crank up the efficiency and get that novel, short story, article or script DONE.
Through exercises, evaluations, tips and technologies, you can learn to write
faster. Discover how to break through blocks, get ideas, develop plots, draft
and polish in less time without losing quality.

Using handouts, group discussions, writing samples and exercises this workshop
will cover:
• Identifying obstacles to writing and remedies
• Questions that help build plots, arguments, scenes and synopses
• Developing your process notebook so you can write for results
• Technology that speeds your writing
• Fast identification of prose problems and checklists for rewriting
• Dealing with distractions
• Measurements that keep you on track
• Writer's block and how to use it

Peter Andrews

Friday, April 26, 2013

Every Other Friday - Kate George

Kate George is the author of the popular Bree MacGowan mystery series. She was born in Sacramento, California, and has been, in no particular order, a paste-up tech, a motorcycle safety instructor, an actor, and the assistant to the dean of a medical school -- all of which provide fodder for her stories. Currently, she lives in an old farmhouse in the backwoods of Vermont with her husband, four kids, and three rescue dogs. Visit her at kategeorge.com, or contact her at kate@kategeorge.com.

Crazy Little Thing Called Dead is the third book in my Bree MacGowan mystery series. It's a generally lighthearted series, along the lines of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series or Gemma Halliday's High Heel mysteries. Bree is from Vermont and most of Crazy Little Thing Called Dead is set in the small central Vermont town of South Royalton. Rural Vermont definitely has it's own character and it's fun to write about life here. In this book Bree finds a dead assassin in the local hair salon. That's like finding a snow man in the Sahara Desert.

This book is a little different from the first two - something genuinely dark happens that pushes Bree to behave in a way that she normally would not. It's more of a mix of humor and darker emotion. It's the best of the series so far. At least in my opinion.

What were your biggest obstacles?
I could say time is my biggest obstacle. I've got a day job, four kids, three dogs, and a husband! But truthfully, my biggest obstacle is my own brain. Making the time to actually sit and write, and then  actually writing during my writing time instead of reading blogs, or chatting with friends. Shutting off the internal critic and just getting the first draft written is a major feat.

I was lucky, my mother-in-law came to stay last summer, and she took over the meal prep. I gave myself a deadline and then wrote like a mad woman all summer. It was all revision by that point, but I spent major time getting them done. But I cut myself off from the Internet for most of every day.

What are your productivity tips?

I subscribe to the ABC method of writing. I've forgotten now where  I first heard this, but I can't claim it as my own. ABC stands for apply butt to chair. You can't write if you aren't sitting at your keyboard.

Also turn off you mind. Put your inner critic to sleep and just get that first draft on paper, or pixels, you know what I mean. Your first draft isn't supposed to be perfect. It's a starting place. A writer friend of mine, Joni B. Cole, says you have to revise something like seventeen times, so don't worry about that first draft. Just get the words down.

Make writing a priority. As Romance Writer, Jenny Crusie says, Protect The Work.

As you can see I got my tips from other writers. There's no point in reinventing the wheel. Mine other writers for their tips, and then keep the ones that work for you. If you're like me, you'll have to keep reminding yourself to put your butt in the chair, etc. Life continually gets in the way, and I have to constantly refocus myself. But I'm always pleased when I'm focused on the writing. It's the one constant in my life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tools for Writing 2: Autocrit for cleaner copy

Junk words, weak verbs, and flabby constructions stand out when you use Autocrit. The end result – if used judiciously -- is enhanced prose. It also is helping me to break some bad habits.
What it does. Autocrit is an editing tool. It scans your copy for passive voice, forms of the verb “to be” (is/was), and the present participle (-ing). Is scours your prose for bland verbs (look, feel, see, know, hear, smell, taste, notice, and more) and junk words like that, adverbs, and maybe.  And Autocrit also highlights initial conjunctions (which I overdo) and “it” (which is often ambiguous).
Autocrit does not check your spelling or grammar (though it can make problems more visible). Use other programs to handle these.
This program, which works online as a service doesn’t promise perfect copy, and it doesn’t always get it right. I recently analyzed a complete novel, and I found, taken literally, it would have made it more impersonal and done serious damage to dialogue.
On the other hand, it virtually wiped out clichés, duplicated phrases and curious repetitions of words. It forced me to re-imagine and rewrite scenes. The process removed hundreds of words even though I found myself adding paragraphs.
Rewriting is my least favorite part of the process of creating a novel. Part of the problem for me is seeing my mistakes and weaknesses – especially after having gone through the work so many times I nearly have it memorized.
Raising questions. If red marks give you the heebie jeebies, this program might not be for you. Your pages will come back drenched in blood.  A 1730-word “finished” chapter showed up with 134 highlighted words and the recommendation that I remove 63 instances of these “overused” words. If pinpointed eight clichés. The program underlined every homonym (the bugbears of spelling programs) and called out dozens of cases of repeated phrases. I also got readability reports, with difficult words and complex sentences marked for my review. (This is an essential part of the report for me since this work is intended for middle grade readers.)
These reports do not change your copy. Each edit mark is something you need to respond to. It doesn’t give answers; it raises questions. I took every mark seriously, but I ignored most of them.
What’s missing. I have a version that allows me to download reports, but I found, instead, I switched back and forth between my manuscript and the online reports (which are tabbed). In theory, I’d like to go from instance to instance, with suggestions for change. That works well for spelling/grammar checks. In practice, with so many words questioned, it is probably more efficient for me to be popping back and forth.
Also, a lot of junk words that make my work more tentative (almost, a bit, nearly, somewhat) are not caught by Autocrit. And it fails to highlight similes (he was like a lion), which often are cowardly versions of metaphors (he was a lion).
Autocrit offers limited free use, so you can try it out yourself. I have a “Professional” membership, which requires an annual subscription. (I bought a lesser subscription and upgraded.)
Autocrit adds speed and efficiency. It has also made me more sensitive to chronic weaknesses. (This could be a problem for people who have a hard time turning off the internal editor. On the other hand, some may find that they compose more easily knowing so many problems will be caught. This program has become a permanent part of my rewriting process.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Every Other Friday -- Joy Smith

Joy Smith turned from a successful career in non-fiction to the challenge of writing women’s fiction and found she loved weaving plots around interesting characters. Her romantic suspense, GREEN FIRE, is her debut book. She has several other romance-based manuscripts in the works, plus a non-fiction book on boating. 

An avid sailor, she spent the past thirty years cruising the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea with “Captain My Way.” Her published works include two books on managing a sailboat, a cookbook, and a book about wedding planning for moms. Joy and her handsome captain live in Connecticut and sail out of Mystic. During her spare time she continues to develop recipes to pass on, crochets prayer shawls, spoils their seven darling grandchildren, and tries not to eat too much ice-cream.

Find her on the Web at  www.joysmith.net (which promotes all her books)and www.joysmithromance.com (which is dedicated to GREEN FIRE), or on Twitter

Tell me about GREEN FIRE.
Happy to, Peter. It’s a just-released romantic suspense, currently available as a digital book. It is said in Colombia that miners addicted to finding emeralds have “green fire in their bellies.” In my story, Victor Novak, a handsome devil who works as a companion to lonely, wealthy matrons (read, gigolo), responds to an invite to Bogota from his new-found brother, a corrupt security guard at an emerald mine, in hopes of bettering himself with a career in emeralds. There, he becomes involved in his brother’s web of danger and deceit, while falling in love with the honest and beautiful Marisol, a single mother struggling to save her family’s flower plantation from the man she believes murdered her father. The story comes to a head when Victor has to choose between becoming a rich (but lonely) criminal or having the love and family he never thought he deserved.

What drove you to write GREEN FIRE?
My love for emeralds of course. What woman doesn’t like jewelry? When researching crime in Colombia for another story, I happened across emerald mining and was fascinated. Online, I found an article about cocaine being smuggled out of the country in flower crates—which led me to craft a plot using emeralds, instead.

Who did you write the book for?
I wanted my story to appeal to men as well as women readers. While a romantic theme runs through the book, I’ve included lots of action scenes as Victor defends himself, his brother, and his woman against cartel gunslingers. When my worst critic--my husband and avid reader of thrillers and “war books”--read my manuscript and liked it, I felt I may have met my goal.

What were your biggest obstacles?
Dealing with Spanish--silly me, I studied French in school. Who knew it would become a second language in the U.S? Also, I worried about adding realism to the setting. I’d never been to Bogota, so I purchased a video of Colombia and then relied on a combo of online Web info and my experiences in other Caribbean countries, like Puerto Rico, to portray what I hope is a fairly accurate rendering of the environment. 

What are your productivity tips?
Stay away from Facebook/Twitter and relegate computer games to down time in front of a bad TV show.

Do you have any questions for me?
Yes, Peter. You seem to be very organized and focused in your writing. How do you manage not to get sidetracked (like me)?

Probably the most important thing I do is decide the day before what I will write. This is a promise I keep to myself. That doesn't mean life doesn't get in the way or that I will ignore a fresh idea. If I have other demands, I carve out 15 minutes to keep my promise. If I get a new idea, I STILL write what I committed to write--even though that means more time at the keyboard. By keeping my promise each day, I know I will continue to make progress on my primary effort.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Bigger 15–Story bites reader

It was the best of stories. It was the worst of stories. Or, dank chill basements, rich coffee, the grind of the carriages wooden wheels.
I love 18th century literature. It gives you an unmistakable point of view and rich, sensual imagery that puts you right in the story. Unfortunately, many people will not give a tale a chance if it starts slowly if the vocabulary demands a dictionary.
We live in the age of the ADD reader. They know new experience is always a click away.
So, I had mixed feelings as I read a contest entry recently that evoked the age of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe. Close to half of what I read is from that era, but I know I am not the typical reader. The careful development of setting and character in the contest entry delighted me, but I knew that this story would not be a winner. The other contest judges made sure of this, and their comments railed against the slow pacing and lack of conflict.
The score I gave was more encouraging, but the other judges may have been more helpful. Anyone seeking to have their fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter) published should take a close look at how well they are engaging readers. This has long been true for short story writers, but today -- especially in popular genres -- novels require hooks, too.
There are many ways to create hooks. The title itself is an essential hook that immediately cues the audience to genre and assures them that the writer takes the work seriously. Misleading or boring titles give editors and agents a reason to pass on work. And, if they survive the editorial process, they reduce the chances of even a wonderful work reaching its potential.
Once the first hurdle of the title is cleared, the first few sentences of text must be negotiated. Amateur writers, if they consider a hook at all, are likely to begin with action. This is a good instinct—strong verbs make for powerful writing and action can create vivid images. The biggest problem they have is a tendency to begin with chase scenes, fights, and characters hanging on to ledges 47 stories up. After they finish those first pages of danger and jeopardy, everything else that follows can be a letdown. In addition, there is no complication to the excitement. We don't know the character yet, so how can we care?
Action that is unusual is a surer bet. The chemist preparing a sample that might prove his brother did not poison the investor. The hacker searching for the malware that could destroy a civil rights lawyer. The young woman macgyvering kitchen appliances and utensils to prepare a defense against the zombie apocalypse.
All of these actions have the potential to provide interesting details. They happen at times when the characters aren't running for their lives and so reflection (that reveals character) is reasonable. And each of these has stakes. The stakes can be raised even further if the protagonist faces a dilemma. For instance, if the chemist has a choice between implicating his brother and sending him to the gallows, or not doing the test and allowing the blame to fall upon himself. This makes it tough on our hero and delightfully agonizing for readers.
An action beginning can also raise a story question. Readers will happily work their way through hundreds or even thousands of pages to get a satisfying answer. Will Scarlett saved Tara? Will Dorothy find her way home? Well Robin Hood avoid capture? I’ll note that there may be other questions along the way. Dorothy's assassination of the Wicked Witch of the West is an urgent question for much of The Wizard of Oz. But raising questions is good, even if they are not “story” questions. And questions need not be raised by actions.
One powerful beginning to a story is one that presents a point of view, often a first person narration, that raises the question, “who is this guy?” In science fiction, an unusual setting—two moons rising in the night sky–can introduce questions and capture interest.
No matter which hooks a writer chooses to use, the beginning needs to be clear and succinct. An unclear beginning will stop a reader cold. In most cases, it breaks the contract between the writer and the reader. How can you be trusted to tell the story and provide a good experience if you begin with confusion? And, just as jokes are funnier when they have fewer words, hooks are more effective when all the excess verbiage is cleared away. Be brief and simple. Avoid compound, convoluted sentences and big words (at least at the beginning).
There was a time when I finish every book I started. But too many novels have taken me to unsatisfying destinations. Today, I only finish about three quarters of the novels I start. (I follow a rule my wife taught me—read 100 pages minus your age, and then decide to put the book down or read to the end.) Of course, this is for books that I've purchased. I read the first few pages of many more books and most of those don’t end up in my shopping cart. (Of course, there are those peculiar people who turn to the last pages. For those, you want to create Endings That Buzz).
Writers, you are facing writers who are likely to be less tolerant than I am, so hook them and hold them.