Writing Lesson

Why I Love Receiving Rejections {0}

Why I Love Receiving Rejections
Rejections and failures are a huge part of life in general. And if you’re a writer, you get them all the time. I’ve gotten three rejections so far this week–and this actually makes me really happy.
 
Right now, I’m in the process of submitting a novel, a graphic novel script, and three short stories for publication. I’m also revising a personal essay to submit to a competition next week, and revising a play to submit to a ten-minute playwriting festival.
 
If I have that many things in my submission queue, it means that I’m getting a lot of rejections. A few of my short stories have been published the first time I’ve submitted them; most of them I’ve had to submit four or five times until I’ve found the right home for them. And some of my polished stories have never found homes, despite my best efforts.  
 
Over time, I’ve developed a bit of a thick skin (thank you, grad school). But really, rejection is not failure. Rejection means I’m trying, I’m putting myself out there–I’m taking big risks. Rejection means that I’m challenging myself, I’m putting in the mandatory effort. Sometimes a rejection means that my writing wasn’t good enough, or used a cliched trope. Sometimes they recently published something too similar. And sometimes the writing is great, but they don’t love it–it’s not a match for them (publishing is like dating–two awesome people do not always make an awesome couple).
 
Two of the rejections I received this week are what is called a “form letter,” basically a “Dear Author, your story was not what we were looking for. Good luck.” In one of the form letters I got this week, it literally said “Dear Author”–and I can’t blame them, as editors and agents often have hundreds of submissions to read in a day.
 
Another rejection I received was personalized. They said my short story was well-written, and then said specifically why it isn’t a match for their magazine (they prefer stories where the fantasy element is more integral to the plot rather than the background). And then they said, “we would be happy to see more from you in the future.” This is the second, very personalized rejection letter I’ve received for the story, and I get the feeling that it’s catching attention, and that it will find a home, as long as I don’t give up, as long as I keep at it.
To me, rejections aren’t an invitation to give up. They’re a sign that I’m going somewhere.

10 Questions for Avoiding Deus ex Machina in Fantasy and Science Fiction {0}

10 Questions for Avoiding Deus ex Machina in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Helios in his chariot, 4th century BC, Athena’s Temple in Ilion. Image credit: Gryffindor (public domain)

Deus ex machina literally means “God in the machine.” My first introduction to it was as a 15 year old reading the Greek tragedy Medea. Medea kills her children, but is saved, at the last moment, by the sun god sending down a chariot to take her away. The Greeks would actually use a crane to lower someone or something onto the stage to save the day.

Jeff Vandermeer, in Wonderbook writes: “The very thing that readers love about fantasy, for example, can backfire… Fantasy writers may also feel some pressure to ‘get out of jail free’ by using the fantasy element to create closure when it hasn’t been earned by the characters or events in the story. Because everything is possible, nothing has any tension…or any weight. The bit of magic that resolves things too easily or the singular invention or the sudden rescue—there are parallels in contemporary realism, but they don’t stand out quite so much. There’s nothing like a sudden dragon blasting across the page to signal an unintentional celebration of spectacular coincidence…”

10 Questions for Avoiding Deus Ex Machina in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Is someone solving the problem that is not the main character? Is someone else saving the main character? And does this happen near the end of the book?

Why can’t the main character solve the problem or save herself?

Is the person saving the day an important secondary character? Have you properly foreshadowed their relationship with the main character and the tools that they have to save the day?

Can the main character do something earlier to pave the way for them being saved now?

Can I foreshadow this so it doesn’t feel completely random?

Even while being saved by someone else, can the main character be active—doing something and contributing?

If the main character is being saved now, can she still solve the main conflict of the novel on her own?

Read the rest of my presentation on Rule-Based Worldbuilding

Rule-Based Worldbuilding for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Steampunk {0}

Just because you are writing speculative fiction, it doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. Your readers expect a cohesive, coherent world. That is why you need rule-based worldbuilding: you set up the rules of a world, and then you stick to them.

This presentation was originally given at the ANWA 2016 Time Out for Writers in Tempe, Arizona.

Steel and Bone
My steampunk story, “The Clockwork Seer,” is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.

Key quotes on Rule-Based Worldbuilding:

David Anthony Durham (author of epic fantasy and historical fiction): “There’s an element of freedom in worldbuilding, but I’d call it a ‘responsibility’ as well—to establish the rules of your world and then live by them. I can decide to plop a desert down here and mountain range over there, but then I—and my characters—have to live with the challenges created by that. I don’t unmake stuff when it poses problems. Just the opposite. Watching how characters are bound and challenged by the things I created is what it’s all about.”

In 1893 the Scottish author George MacDonald wrote in “The Fantastic Imagination”: “man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws.

“His world once invented, the highest law that comes next into play is, that there shall be harmony between the laws by which the new world has begun to exist; and in the process of his creation, the inventor must hold by those laws. The moment he forgets one of them, he makes the story, by its own postulates, incredible. To be able to live a moment in an imagined world, we must see the laws of its existence obeyed. Those broken, we fall out of it. The imagination in us, whose exercise is essential to the most temporary submission to the imagination of another, immediately, with the disappearance of Law, ceases to act…. A man’s inventions may be stupid or clever, but if he does not hold by the laws of them, or if he makes one law jar with another, he contradicts himself as an inventor, he is no artist….Obeying law, the maker works like his creator; not obeying law, he is such a fool as heaps a pile of stones and calls it a church.”

In “On Fairy-stories” J. R. R. Tolkien wrote: “the storymaker…makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside.”

Jeff Vandermeer, in Wonderbook: “The very thing that readers love about fantasy, for example, can backfire… Fantasy writers may also feel some pressure to ‘get out of jail free’ by using the fantasy element to create closure when it hasn’t been earned by the characters or events in the story. Because everything is possible, nothing has any tension…or any weight. The bit of magic that resolves things too easily or the singular invention or the sudden rescue—there are parallels in contemporary realism, but they don’t stand out quite so much. There’s nothing like a sudden dragon blasting across the page to signal an unintentional celebration of spectacular coincidence…”

Rule-Based Worldbuilding and Plot Structure: I wrote several paragraphs and ten questions on avoiding deus ex machina in science fiction and fantasy.

Rule Based Worldbuilding for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Steampunk

ANWA Presentation: Optimizing Your Author Website for Google and Social Media {0}

To really optimize your author website, you need to do more than just SEO: you need to make your website content stimulating, searchable, sharable, and savable. Additionally, ideas are given for unpublished authors on how to start a website and what to blog about. This presentation was given at the ANWA Time Out For Writer’s Conference on September 16, 2016.

List of Ideas for Published and Unpublished Authors to Blog About:

±Short stories

±Poetry

±Comics

±Art

±Photo a Day

±Personal Writing Process

±Personal Inspiration

±Writers you admire

±Book reviews

±Movie reviews

±Something related to craft you’ve gone searching for and not found  a good answer

±Life updates

±Travel/Events

±Your non-writing hobby

±Where you live (i.e. parks/ historic sites/history etc.)

±Subjects your characters care about

±Top 10 Lists

±Your Genre

±Subjects your characters care about

±Resources for Readers (i.e. genre compilation lists)

±How to Guides

±Soundtracks to your book/life

±Cooking/Crafts

±Kids/Family/Church

±Rhetorical treatises on things you care about

±Satire

±Current events

±Dream cast the characters in your stories

±Your favorite first lines from books in your genre

±Create a Buzzfeed style quiz about something you care about

±Season/month/holiday theme

±Languages and foreign lands

±Grammar misused “in the wild”

±Favorite authors

±Creative history of a subject you care about

±Things you collect

±Quotes to inspire

±Book trailer

±Fan book trailers or art

±Concerts, writing conferences, and special events

±Word history/analysis

Useful Links

Note: I didn’t have time to actually turn these into hyperlinks yet, but that will happen ASAP.

The platform I use for my website: WordPress

Email subscription service (free up to 1000 subscribers): MailChimp

Image Editing and Creation: Canva

Keyword Research: Keywordtool.io

More Keyword Research: do a Google search

WordPress SEO Plugin: Yoast SEO

Advanced Keyword Research: kwfinder.com and semrush.com

Creative Commons searches–make sure you perform an advanced search so it’s an image you have rights to use. If it requires attribution, then attribute it in your post: Flickr, Google, Bing, Google, Wikimedia Commons

Free stock photos (no attribution required): Pexels

Learn to write good titles and blog posts: Buzzfeed

Plugins I Use on My Website:

Akismet (spam filter)

All in One Favicon

Easy Forms for MailChimp by YIKES

Exclude Pages from Navigation

Special Recent Posts Free Edition

Yoast SEO

Coming soon… other good plugins (will update this weekend)

Optimizing Your Author Website for Google & Social Media

Story Beats Presentation {2}

I gave a presentation on Writing Powerful Story Beats as part of a free, online writing conference hosted by LDS Beta Readers.

You can now view a rerecording of the presentation:

 

The presentation slides:

Useful links:

I wrote three blog posts on this subject, which have additional examples and exercises: 10 Keys to Writing Story Beats, Action Beats, Dialogue Beats, and Beat Variation, and Writing Powerful Emotion Beats.

Also, you can learn more about dialogue beats in my post 10 Keys to Writing Dialogue in Fiction.