Character-driven or Action-driven?

By Martha Alderson
Most writers have a preference for one style of writing over another. Some writers are more adept at developing complex, interesting, and quirky characters. Others excel at page-turning action. The lucky writers are good at creating both the character emotional development plotline and the dramatic action plotline. Become aware of your strength and learn to address your weakness, and you, too, can become one of the lucky ones.
Cover of Marthat Alderson The Plot Whisperer's Workbook

Action-Driven

Broadly speaking, writers who prefer writing action-driven stories focus on logical thinking, rational analysis, and accuracy. Action-driven writers tend to rely more on the left side of their brain. These writers approach writing as a linear function and see the story in its parts. Action-driven writers like structure. They usually pre-plot or create an outline before writing. Action-driven writers have little trouble expressing themselves in words.

Character-Driven

On the other hand, writers who write character-driven stories tend to focus on aesthetics and feelings, creativity and imagination. These writers access the right side of their brains and enjoy playing with the beauty of language. They are more intuitive, and like to work things out on the page. Character-driven writers are holistic and subjective. They can synthesize new information, but are somewhat (or more) disorganized and random. They see the story as the whole. Right brain writers may know what they mean, but often have trouble finding the right words.

The Test

Take the test below to see whether you are stronger at developing character emotional development plotlines or dramatic action plotlines.

Fill in the character emotional development plot profile below for your protagonist (the character who is most changed by the dramatic action), any other major viewpoint characters and, if there is one, the character who represents the major antagonist for the protagonist:

  1. Protagonist’s overall story goal:
  2. What stands in his/her way of achieving this goal:
  3. What does he/she stand to lose, if not successful:
  4. Flaw or greatest fault:
  5. Greatest strength:
  6. Hates:
  7. Loves:
  8. Fear:
  9. Secret:
  10. Dream

Results

  • Writers who filled out 1-3 with ease prefer writing dramatic action.
  • Writers who filled in 4- 10 with ease prefer character emotional development.
  • Writers who filled in everything with ease find both the dramatic action and the character emotional development plotlines come easy.

Analysis

Without a firm understanding of points 1-3, you have no front story. The dramatic action plotline is what gets the reader turning the pages. Without it there is no excitement on the page.

Without a firm understanding of points 4-10, you are more likely to line up the action pieces of your story, arrange them in a logical order and then draw conclusions. Yet, no matter how exciting the action, this presentation lacks the human element. Such an omission increases your chances of losing your audience’s interest; readers read 70% for character.

Plot Tips

For Dramatic Action Plot Writers

To Strengthen the Character Emotional Development Plotline

  1. Try using your own flaw, fear, and/or secret—we all have them. What you filled out for #4-10 of the character emotional development profile is a mere skimming of the surface, like the first draft of any story. Even so, tack it up next to your computer. Over time, as you continue writing and come to know your characters better, the information will deepen. The longer you work, the deeper you will dig, the more significant your story will become.
  2. Look for opportunities to incorporate more patterning, metaphors, and analogies into your writing.
  3. Look for opportunities to role-play and use visual aids.
  4. Stop writing periodically and move your body during your writing time.
  5. Reread the information above that covers the less dominant side of your writing.
  6. Writers with strength in creating dramatic action usually think in sequence and are list makers. Since you have no trouble processing symbols, you actually enjoy making an advanced plan on a linear form such as a plot planner.
  7. After plotting out the dramatic action, use a different color pen and plot out a character emotional development plotline. To create logical conclusions, look for clues as to how the dramatic action causes changes in the character emotional development.

For Character Emotional Development Plot Writers

To Strength the Dramatic Action Plotline

  1. Use goals of your own and insert them into the context of the story— to finish, what? To organize, what? To accomplish, what?
  2. Writers who write about character emotional development have a more random writing style and rebel at anything as structured as a scene tracker or plot planner. Yet, because you like things concrete and benefit from seeing, feeling, or touching the real object, you keep coming back to the idea of developing a plot planner. You know intuitively that a plan will keep you on track and help you survive to the end of a completed project
  3. Because the right side of the brain is color sensitive, use one color to plot out the character emotional development scenes and use a different color to show the dramatic action, and yet another to show the thematic significance.
  4. Schedule a walk during your writing time and set the timer. Imagine yourself plotting out your scenes in sequence. The act of seeing yourself plotting will help you actually do it.
  5. Start with the climax of your story, and work backwards. Using your intuition, pay attention to coherence and meaning. Link dramatic action to the changes in your characters emotional development.
  6. Since you like to back up everything visually, hang a plot planner and/or scene tracker on a wall near your computer. These will help you remember the sequence of your story as you rewrite and rewrite until your story shows the meaning you want it to convey.

cover of Martha Alderson's Writing DeepThese are just some of the differences that exist between character-driven writers and action-driven writers, but you can see the pattern. Writers who lean more toward creating the character emotional development plotline now know you can be flexible and adapt the plot planner to make such a structured approach work for you. Likewise, those of you who are predominantly left-brain know that it would be wise to use both sides of the brain and employ some right brain strategies.

We tend to process and use information from our dominant side. However, the writing process is enhanced when both sides of the brain participate in a balanced manner.

Martha Alderson, M.A. is the author of Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple. She is a teacher, a plot consultant, a speaker, and an award-winning writer of historical fiction. She has taught plot and scene development and historical novel writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz Extension, Learning Annex, writers’ conferences, and workshops in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and in Washington State. Martha is available workshops and plot consultations. You can find plot tips and tools at Martha Alderson’s Website blockbusterplots.com. Her books on writing and plotting fiction are available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Better Interview Questions

By Ben Baker

Writing the story is only part of the process. You have to get information first.

If you interview enough people, sooner or later you will come across someone who replies to everything in monosyllables, grunts, and short sentences that give you the very barest minimum of facts. No matter how good your initial questions are, in order to get into the subject and really bring out details, you will have to have great follow up questions to draw information out of the subject.

A few notes about the following list: Not all questions are suitable for all interviews. Some questions refer to jobs, some refer to activities like hobbies. Some questions can be used for either. In most cases the word “field” is used to represent profession, activity, hobby, etc. Some questions don’t have anything to do with an activity; they just seek personal information. This is not an unabridged list. A good interviewer will find launching points for questions which could not possibly be anticipated.

Without further ado, here is a list of common interview questions (Q) with some follow-up (F) questions that will help you get more if your subject doesn’t give you a lot of information.

Q – Who are your inspirations or heroes?

F – Why do they inspire you?

F – What makes them heroic in your eyes?

F – What effect do they have on you?

F – When did you first learn about them?

F – Who told you about them?

F – What have learned about them since first learning of them?

F – How have you applied what you learned from them?

F – How can other people see your heroes/inspirations in you?

F – What do you do to be more like your heroes/inspirations?

Q – Married?

If “yes,” then:

F – How did you and spouse meet?

F – How long married?

F – What first attracted you to your spouse?

F – Does your spouse help in your field? If yes, then how?

F – Do you help your spouse in spouse’ field? If yes, then how?

F – Children? Grandkids?

F – Want to have kids?

F – Do you want to see your children do the same thing? Why or why not?

If “no,” then:

F – Ever been married?

F – Ever been engaged?

F – Ever wanted to be married?

F – Kids?

F – Want to have kids?

F – Do/Would you want to see your children do the same thing? Why/Why not?

(Note – if the person is biologically incapable of having kids, ask about adoption.)

Q – Are you involved in your community where you live?

F – What do you do?

F – Anything you’d like to do in your community which you have not yet done? Why?

Q – Where would you most like to visit?

F – Have you been there? If yes, what was the best part of it? If no, then will you ever go?

F – If you go back, what would you do that you haven’t done?

F – What makes it a good place to visit?

F – If you recommended this place to someone who’s never been there, what should they do first?

F – What surprised you about this place?

Q – Have any hobbies?

F – How did you get started in the hobby?

F – Why do you keep doing it?

F – What have learned through your hobby?

F – Why would other people enjoy doing it?

F – What’s a good way to get started in the hobby?

(NOTE: If possible, ask to see the person’s hobby. This could be the picture you need for the article, the person and hobby)

Q – Where did you grow up?

F – Did you move around a lot? If yes, how did this affect you? If no, how did the stability of living in one place all your life affect you?

F – What did you enjoy most about where you grew up?

Q – Are there any political or social issues you feel passionately about? (If you can’t get a story’s worth of information out of this line of questioning, you have GOT to be interviewing a corpse!)

F – Why are these things important to you?

F – What do you for these causes?

F – How can someone else get involved in these issues?

F – How much of your time do these causes take up?

F – Have you ever considered taking on these causes as a full-time occupation?

F – What would you most like to do that could further these causes?

Q – Do you have a nickname?

F – How’d you get it?

F – Do you like it?

F – Ever given someone else a nickname?

F – Did they like it?

Q – What is your favorite (book, movie or play, quote, poem, website, type of food or individual dish, music genre, song, band or individual musician, perfume, clothing style or designer, etc.)?

F – Why?

F – What drew you to this?

F – Where can other people find this?

Q – Why do you do what you do? (e.g., Why do you write? Work on cars? Race horses? Fish? Run marathons? Annoy politicians?)

F – How did you get started?

F – Who helped you get started?

F – How did they help you?

F – If you couldn’t do this, what would you do?

F – Why?

F – Would you be as happy?

F – Would you recommend (what the person does) to someone else?

F – Why?

F – What do they need to do to be successful at (whatever the person does)?

With these next follow-ups, you made need to insert some detailed specifics.

F – What would you change about (whatever the person does)?

Here, if the person says nothing, you may need to dip deeper into the subject. Ask about particulars. Referring back to the main question which spawned these follow-ups, you’d as a writer if he enjoys editing, research, writer’s block, finding a market for the work, the pay for the work. With cars, you might ask if the person enjoys having to dispose of used oil, getting greasy, scraping knuckles in hard-to-get-at places. With horses you might ask about the work which goes into horses, shoveling manure, brushing hide, filing hooves, buying feed, vet bills. If the person fishes, ask about the cost of maintaining a boat, lures, other fishermen, cleaning and cooking fish, driving to places to fish. On marathons you could ask about entry fees, cost of running shoes, the kind of surfaces the person runs over, running in different kinds of weather, trying to break through a pack, the Wall. Annoying politicians is my personal hobby and the only thing I’d change about it is having more time to annoy them.

F – Why would you change it?

F – How would changing that affect what you do?

F – Does that change make sense and really need to be done?

F – Why or why not?

Q – Is there anyone in (whatever the person does) you admire? (NOTE: This series could have been addressed in the first set, but there’s no guarantee it was so addressed. A hero may not be the same as someone who is admired.)

F – Why?

F – What do you admire most about that person?

F – Do you know this person?

F – Has this person had any influence on you?

F – Has this person ever given you advice?

F – What was the advice?

F – Was it good advice?

F – If so did you take the advice? Why or why not?

F – How did you apply the advice?

F – Is it good advice for anyone interested in (whatever that person does)?

Q – How have things changed?

F – Have any of the changes surprised you?

F – Were there any changes you expected?

F – How have you incorporated the changes?

F – Were the changes good or bad?

F – Why?

F – If you could, would you change it back? Why or why not?

F – What does the future hold?

Q – What sets you apart from the competition?

F – Have you learned anything from the competition?

F – What do you think the competition has learned from you?

Q – What training do you have?

F – Have you ever taught classes/seminars in your field? If so, where?

F – How often do you go to seminars/classes?

F – Have you ever wanted to be a professional teacher in this field? Why or why not?

F – Where is the best place to go to learn about your field?

F – Did your training prepare you for everything you’ve had to deal with? If not, what didn’t it cover? How did you handle it?

F – Do you need formal training for the work?

F – If you could tell people entering this field about something school did not teach them, what would it be?

Q – What honors have you received?

F – How did you feel about receiving the award(s)?

F – Have you ever recommended someone else for honors?

F – Have you ever delivered honors to someone else?

F – Are honors important? Why?

F – If you didn’t have the chance to receive honors, would you continue to do what you do?

Q – Are you involved in any of the field’s groups and associations?

F – What are they?

F – Any you would like to join but haven’t? If so what are they? Why haven’t you joined?

F – What group(s) would you recommend to a beginner? Why?

F – Have the group(s) helped you? How?

F – Have you made significant contributions to the group(s)? What?

F – How has your contribution affected things?

F – If you could make a lasting contribution, what would it be

Ben Baker has been a writer for longer than he wants to think about. He’s interviewed people ranging from garbage truck drivers to world-famous celebrities and he still can’t remember every question he needs to ask. You can find Ben Baker’s books on Amazon, and he blogs at Pork Brains And Milk Gravy.

Breaking Out Of Writer’s Block

By Apryl Duncan

You stare at the blank page. The white of the page embeds itself in your brain, resulting in your mind going blank.

Breaking out of the block doesn’t have to be a mind-boggling challenge, though. Explore the causes and the cure and you’ll be writing again in no time.

Common Causes

  • Unrealistic GoalsIf you’ve decided that you’re going to write from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every single day – no matter what – then you’re probably pushing yourself too hard.Your writing will become dull and drab. The natural flow you once knew will temporarily escape to Writer’s Block Island with the rest of your writing talents.
  • Stress!We all know how stress can affect your mood. But stress can also affect your writing.For instance, say all you wanted to do was come home from work and write until bedtime. Your boss makes you stay late. Your supper was a half-cooked hamburger and cold fries from a local fast food restaurant. Your dog wants to go out. And all you want to do is crawl in bed and forget the entire day.

    As much as we try to carry a stiff upper lip, we’re still human. External factors can affect our mood and ultimately affect our writing. Our focus shifts to all the bad things that happened in our day and writing becomes the last thing we want to do.

  • Neglecting Our WritingSometimes Writer’s Block comes from not writing! Writing every day is essential to keeping those creative juices flowing.You don’t have to make an impossible deal with yourself to write 100 pages of your manuscript in one sitting. Taking as little as 10 minutes a day helps keep you writing and words will flow from your mind much easier.
  • PerfectionismThe perfect paragraph, word after word, is a carefully constructed piece of art. But hanging yourself up on creating that perfect paragraph will win you an all-expense paid trip to Writer’s Block Island.If you run into this problem, give yourself and your writing a cooling off period. After a couple of days, re-visit your work and see where or even if it needs improvement. Your mind will be fresh and clear, giving you a whole new perspective on your own writing.
  • Research-RelatedA lot of writers don’t realize how research can even be a hang-up. Maybe you can’t finish your crime novel because you don’t know how police would handle a certain situation in reality.Sometimes the answer isn’t so obvious and we try to write our way around it. All we really need to do is a little more research.

The Cure!

After you’ve beaten your fists on the keyboard and taken two aspirin for that migraine, try these cures for writer’s block:

    • RevisitRe-read some of your previous works. Maybe it was a journal entry. Perhaps you wrote a poem once. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a novel. You can still gain insight and even inspiration from something else you’ve written.
    • Change of SceneryHow many times have you heard a song that reminds you of something? Perhaps you heard that song a dozen times a day when you were in college. So that particular song brings back memories. The same goes for scenery in your every day life.If you’re sitting in the same room, day after day, the scenery’s going to get old. That scenery starts to remind you that you’re not writing. That you’re stuck in what seems like a hopeless case of Writer’s Block.

      The solution is simple. Seek out a change of pace. Go for a walk. Take a drive.

    • Rewrite Another’s WorkCheck out a newspaper or magazine article. Now rewrite that story from a new angle. Maybe a young girl was kidnapped. Police are still looking for the suspect and the little girl.Your version of the story might portray the young girl as the daughter of a lawyer. Perhaps one of his clients wasn’t happy with the way his own daughter’s murder trial was handled. So he kidnapped the defending lawyer’s pride and joy.
    • Use Real PicturesFlip through a magazine. Cut out pictures, headlines, even certain blocks of text. Now write a short story based on your clippings.For example, you might cut out a picture of a man riding a bicycle on page 14 of your favorite magazine. On page 22 you cut out a quote that says, “Anyone caught doing this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

      Your story could turn into one man’s crusade. Perhaps this man’s riding his bicycle across country because he’s outraged by automobile pollution levels. His point is to raise people’s awareness about the effects of pollution.

      Meanwhile, police keep hindering his efforts because the man’s riding his bicycle on the freeway, a violation of the law. So you have a man on his bicycle and the police quote, “Anyone caught doing this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

    • DoodleYes! You were scolded in elementary school for doodling on your paper. Now you have full permission.Free your mind while scribbling. No need to think about your character’s next move. No plot structures to consider. Just a sense of connecting your pen to paper.
    • Object FocusTake a look around you. Does something catch your eye? Even something as simple as a stapler. Describe an object in full detail. Start with its size, shape, color.
    • Building BlocksRomance. Mystery. Thrillers. All genres have their own keywords. Build keywords from your own genre.If you’re a romance writer, you could come up with words like love, marriage, betrayal, lust, happiness. Jot down as many words as you can think of.
    • Life EventsThe birth of a child. Holidays. Graduation. Weddings. We all have our favorite life events. Pick one of your own and write down all your thoughts and feelings about that day. Turn it into a story.
    • NetworkMany authors beat Writer’s Block or avoid it altogether by networking with their fellow writers. Bulletin boards, chats and writer’s Web sites all offer you the chance to meet other authors and work your way through the many facets of fiction writing.Think of talking with other writers as your own personal support group.

Writer’s Block may attack you at some point in your writing career but always remember:

WB isn’t fatal.

Overcoming WB is not impossible.

WB’s only temporary.

Apryl Duncan is the founder of www.FictionAddiction.NET, an award-winning site for fiction writers and readers. She is an author and professional freelance writer who enjoys writing everything from mystery novels to how-to articles on the writing craft.

Anatomy of a Newspaper Feature

By Ben Baker

As a newspaper editor for longer than I really want to think about, I’ve written, read, edited, and cursed more newspaper feature articles than anyone except another newspaper editor.

The cursing part comes in because most newspaper feature articles I read are one-person interviews which are almost monologues of the person being interviewed. Nothing exciting, some potentially interesting anecdotes, but it’s not the kind of writing that reaches out and grabs a reader by the eyeballs and drags him into a story.

The fault for this is twofold: most newspaper reporters are under serious deadline pressure to get something written and get it on a page. This leaves little time for getting seriously creative in the storytelling process and storytelling is what a solid feature should do. The second problem is newspaper reporters are taught to keep a professional distance from the story, which prevents them from getting inside the story and looking out.

I recently had the chance to write a feature story, which is rare for me. As the story involved the father of one of my friends, I got into deeper than I normally would have. The story turned out to be a killer piece. I have included it below with some story-construction notes embedded in parentheses to show the process of how I generated this award-winning story.

By Ben Baker Editor (Byline. Duh.)

His arm reaches as high as it can as the tall man waves vigorously at the Cessna plane taking off at the Turner County airport. (This lede is intentionally ambiguous because I had awesome art to go with the story—a hunched over man covered in gauze between two very tall men next to a small single-engine plane. The 80 pt kicker headline read “A Dying Wish.” I knew I had the reader hooked with these two visual elements, but I wanted to make some suspense. It was important to show this big man waving at the plane for reasons that will become more obvious later in the story.)

You can’t see the big man’s eyes tearing up because he’s got sunglasses on as he watches the plane soar off. It’s not a wave good-bye. Well, then again it sort of is a way good-bye. (Key #1—why the wave was important. Here we have a big man. Men, as the adage goes, are not supposed to cry. Yet, here a very large man, as evidenced by the artwork, is crying. There’s also another suspense set-up in the double-entrendre wave goodbye. Again, this will make sense later into the story. )

(These two ‘graphs are also a key place where most newspaper features fall down. I have not given the reader any information in the story that is useful so far as a plot line goes. But I have taken a line from fiction writers and I have built major character into this man in four short sentences. Character development is the number one area where newspaper feature stories fall down. A good feature writer doesn’t just interview. A good feature writer observes and reports on what is seen. Show the reader some details. )

The tall man in sunglasses is watching a lifelong dream happen as the plane disappears from sight. The airplane trip, piloted by Jay Leatherwood, is a ride sponsored by the Ashburn Pilot’s Association. Seated next to Mr. Leatherwood is a special passenger. A passenger who is stooped over, and has a head covered with gauze, a passenger who is getting a dream 80+ years in the making come true. (This paragraph sets the hook, to borrow a fishing term. I have grabbed the reader with a few key words: “Lifelong dream” speaks to everyone who has an unmet personal goal of any kind. We all have dreams. “Special passenger” lets the reader know this is not an ordinary event. The next sentence partially explains this, but builds more suspense. The “80+ years” is just more suspense and tightens the grip on the reader. These minor details are one of the instances where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Also, note my use of these descriptive details scattered throughout the story. Observe absolutely, but take your observations and shotgun them through the story. Keep feeding your reader bits and bites of information. Don’t lump all your observations into one sentence or one paragraph. It’s like butter and sour cream on a baked potato. Mix the condiments through the entire tater and it will taste good from the first bite to the last. )

The special passenger is James. J. Zabriskie. The gauze protects the skin-cancer ravaged skin on his skull from being damaged. (Now you know the man’s name. Critical information, but I delayed announcing it intentionally. I linked it to the cancer. Being in South Georgia, skin cancer here is extremely common. Everyone I know has had family members touched by cancer and every extended family down here has lost someone to cancer. Cancer, as with any dread disease, generates sympathy in a reader, especially when the disease is caused by external forces the victim had no control over. )

The internal cancer, well, it’s terminal. (Death. It’s the great equalizer. I wrote this sentence exactly like I would speak it to someone. In fact, before I wrote it, I spoke it aloud. The word “well” separated by commas generates a dramatic pause which lets the reader know something of major importance is coming up. Two simple words “it’s terminal” deliver an emotional blow like nothing else. )

James is Craig Zabriskie’s (call him Craig Z) dad. Craig Z is the tall man in sunglasses who watched the plane take off on the ride of a lifetime for his dad. (A simple wrap-up sentence to tie everything above together. Now the light goes off in the reader’s head. The suspense in ended, but a new suspense has been created. The old man went flying, which was his wish. So what was it like? This is where the interview with the feature subject is very important. I use Craig Z to ID the son because that is how Craig Z is known in our community. As he explains, no one can pronounce his last name. )

“I would have given my life to fly,” the elder Mr. Z says standing outside the plane. (Just me being a bit difficult and teasing the reader by dragging out the suspense. It’s very important that this kind of tease be short. Take it too long and you frustrate the average reader who will move on to a less annoying story, unless the reader likes mysteries in which case more teasing is a good thing. I also differentiate the two men by calling the father Mr. Z. )

After 83 years, Mr. Z got his wish to soar above the earth, shaking off the fetters of gravity that have kept him bound to the surface. (An almost hyperbolic statement. Pure and simple, it’s a case of me as a writer injecting imagery into a story. Instead of saying, “He got to fly.” I jazzed it up with extensive descriptive language. This too is another failing of many newspaper features. Instead of telling the reader Mr. Z flew, I give, as I count, nine separate images: Age, soar, earth, shaking off, fetters, gravity, kept, bound and surface. Again, a case of the whole is greater than sum of the parts. Egad, this is so hackneyed, but so true—show, don’t tell. )

As Mr. Leatherwood and Craig Z helped the elder Mr. Z into the front seat of the plane, Craig Z joked “This is the Turner County Make a Wish Foundation for old farts.” (Straight quote. No way I could improve on it. Sometimes you get a gem of an interview, sometimes you don’t. I got lucky with this one. )

The Zabriskies are carnival people. Craig Z runs a bigtop tent manufacturing and repair facility on Stanford Road. He moved up here from Florida and resumed operations in the old Industrial Park before moving to the Standford Road facility. He got into the business because of his Dad. (More background info. I could have dressed this up some, but the story is really about Mr. Z, so I left this pretty plain. But, it’s important information as the next ‘graph illustrates. )

“I could write you a serious story just about his life,” Craig Z said. “He grew up with his mother. His father left them. He went into the carnivals to try and impress his dad. He was a WWII prison camp guard.” (Luck of the draw, pure and simple. A great interview and a man with an interesting past. )

After that, Mr. Z went to a trade school and learned about the big diesel engines that power so many carnival rides. (More background, but as most people have been to a carnival, they probably never gave a thought to what goes on behind the scenes. Still, running away with the circus is often a childhood dream and still something adults joke about. Here’s one man who did it. This creates another emotional link between the reader and Mr. Z. More luck of the draw sort of. I say sort of, because everyone has a story—sometimes you just have to look harder to find it. I didn’t have to look long to find this one. )

Even through all this, he never let go of the dream of flight. (A setup line. Pure and simple. Short. Sweet. Alludes to hard times and still holding on to a dream—this is clearer in the next paragraph. Another emotional link forged in the chain connect the reader and Mr. Z. As a writer, you should look for ways to connect the feature subject to the reader. )

“When he was a little kid, he used to build model airplanes. That was his passion, to learn to fly,” Craig Z said of his dad. “He was born with one bad eye and never could go for his pilot’s license.” (More background, but presented in a killer quote. I got lucky again. )

The plane meanwhile, has warmed up and is taxiing out to the runway. (I draw the reader back to the story at hand. I wrote this story in present tense first, changed it to past tense and went back to present tense because in my mind present tense for the flight is more real and immediate to the reader. It brings the reader into the story with me. The sentence also announces the flight, mentioned in the lede, is about to begin.)

“I’ve got to get over here,” Craig Z said by way of excusing himself to the other side of his pickup. “I’m all busted up over this.” (More luck of the draw quotes, but also ones that show Craig Z has made his own emotional investment in the story. Parents will clearly identify with this as will people who’ve had to care for ailing parents. )

After a few minutes to recover his composure, he comes back around to the front of the truck. The plane is at the far end of the runway. Mr. Leatherwood is preparing for takeoff. (Straight observation. Keeps the reader involved in the here and now in the story. I could have expanded this to discuss the plane zipping down to the far end of the runway while Craig leaned on his truck, but I chose to leave this part unspoken and merely hint at it. This is a case of forbidden fruit is always sweeter. By leaving it to the reader’s imagination, they can create in their own mind what happened and thereby move even deeper into this feature. )

“It’s been his lifelong dream. Jay is fulfilling it for him,” Craig Z said. “He’s terminal with cancer. He came home here with me to spend his last days. I thank God for all the people here in Turner County. Y’all have been so great to all of us.” (It’s called Southern Hospitality. It’s what we do. It’s also luck of the draw on quotes. )

The plane is now rolling up the runway. Tina Zabriskie, Mr. Z’s granddaughter is filming the ride from the ground. Nicholas Zabriskie, Mr. Z’s grandson is riding in the plane’s back seat. The plane leaves the runway and Mr. Leatherwood pulls back on the yoke. The plane rises. Craig Z waves as hard as he can. (This wraps the plane ride, but not the story. )

THE NEXT MORNING (subhead break—announces a second part of the story. )

The next morning at the Zabriskie house, walking in the house from the shop out back, Craig Z said his dad had a wonderful time Thursday afternoon. (More setup. We know Craig Z has a giant tent shop. This is just stage dressing and fill-in material to build on later.)

“He was grinning from ear to ear,” he said. (So it’s trite. Believe me, the average newspaper reader doesn’t have a problem with trite quotes in a story like this. )

Inside, Mr. Z is laying back in a recliner at the Zabriskie home. His nurses are leaving the house, having prepared him for another day. (I remind the readers Mr. Z is terminal with cancer. At this point in the story, that detail is a bit fuzzy for some readers. The recliner is also one of those condiment issues. I could have said he was sitting, or just said Mr. Z was in the home. By mentioning recliner, I have made Mr. Z even more real as a person to the reader because the reader can identify with laying back in a recliner. Give the reader something to hang onto and identify with in your feature article. )

“It was good. He took me for a nice ride. We got a good view of what Ashburn, Ga., looks like from the air,” he said. (Not much of a quote, but it needs to be a quote. Mr. Z has to put it in his own words. He continues shortly. )

The first destination in the air was the Z family house and the shop. From there, they flew around the County. Mr. Z said he saw big drainage ponds—somewhere. (I chose to paraphrase this because Mr. Z’s quotes were not very good. Besides which, the county I live in is dotted with irrigation ponds. So, the reader could imagine Mr. Z flew over their house. This makes another connection. )

The afternoon ride was rescheduled from Thursday morning. Late Thursday morning the winds picked up. Mr. Leatherwood was concerned it would be too rough in the air for Mr. Z so the flight was rescheduled with hopes for calmer winds. (Creates tension. This is important in any good story. But, we already know what happened, so why is this important? “Mr. Leatherwood was concerned” is the central element of this paragraph. It puts a link between the pilot and Mr. Z and the reader. Also, this graph will become important with the next graph. )

“He was afraid of shaking me. He could have shaken me like a salt shaker and I would have gone,” Mr. Z said. (WHAM! Now you see why the turbulence graph was so important where it was place. Again, luck of the draw on quotes. )

He said the flight was more and better than he expected. (segue .)

“I got to get up and see everything. It looked real good,” he said. As for what was best, “Everything. I can’t put my finger on it,” he said. (His own words. Very important because this is an emotional statement, not a factual observation like what he saw from the air. )

There were no surprises either. (In interviews with someone achieving a goal or doing something new I find one of the most revealing questions I can ask is “Did anything surprise you?” Sometimes it’s a bust, sometimes not. This appears to be a bust, but isn’t as you’ll see. )

“I was well pleased with everything. It was a good takeoff and landing, not that I’m an authority,” he said. (This shows why no surprises is not a bust. Also, an emotional statement so it needs to be in his words ).

“I told him just don’t go kamikaze on us with a smile on your face,” Craig Z said. “We want you around a while longer.” (Luck of the quote draw. )

Mr. Z said he wouldn’t do that. He also wasn’t worried about the landing; he knew the plane was going to land. The important part was getting airborne. (Reinforces the dream realized. Also links kamikaze crash landing to walk away from it landing. )

Mr. Z retired from a lifetime of working the carnival routes. He plans to be cremated and wants his remains poured on Interstate 90 North and South. He wants that because he spent so much of his life on that road with the carnivals. (Segue. Background information with ZING! We know what Mr. Z did and cremation is a rarity down here. To have his ashes poured out of a plane, what an image. Again, I got lucky with this interview. )

“I said, will it be OK if we dust you out the airplane? He said ‘Hell yeah, that will be even better,'” Craig Z said. (Even more luck. Craig Z is just a great interview. Use of the word “fart” and “hell” did give me pause since my paper serves a VERY conservative Bible belt readership. But I made the decision to use the words for two reasons: It was a direct quote. It made a major emotional impact. )

But now, he’s somewhat changed his mind. He said he’d be happy to have his remains spread over Turner County, but do it from the air. (Errrr, WHAT?! is what the reader is now thinking. A sudden unexpected shift of direction which was the luck of the draw. )

“What the hell. It’s better than being shot from a cannon. That’s a one shot thing,” he said. “They sprinkle me everywhere. They’ll know Jim Zabriskie was there.” (Now some readers are horrified, which is good because I know this story has connected on a gut level. As much as I hate to admit it, again luck of the draw on quotes. )

Craig Z jokes that this year’s cotton crop should be a bumper one, growing off his Dad’s ashes. (More Z family humor. May be disturbing to some, but it is who they are. As a writer I have an obligation to present them as real as I can. )

Mr. Z will celebrate his birthday in April. If he’s able to, he’ll fly again on his birthday. (A promise to repeat the dream. Readers are now cheering Mr. Z on. )

Again, if he’s able, Mr. Leatherwood has promised to let Mr. Z take over the controls for a little while. As far as Mr. Z is concerned, that’s a promise Mr. Leatherwood will have to keep. (And the crowd goes wild! They storm the field! They tear down the goal post! They throw Mr. Z from one end zone to another! Sorry. Got a little carried away myself .)

“I’m going to make it,” he said. (More cheering! )

A SURPISING ATTITUDE (Another subhead break to announce a change in the story. This was also included at the request of the Z family. This being a feature about Mr Z, I felt it was important to put it in because it adds even more substance to the flesh of the man I have built to this point.)

The one thing about South Georgia which has surprised him is the reception he and the family have received.

“I didn’t realize we had so many good friends here,” Mr. Z said. “They didn’t do that when we went to Okechobee. We had to pay for everything. (Here) everyone cares.” (It’s called Southern Hospitality baybee! We like it when someone compliments us on it, which, combined with the next two comments, is the cement that binds the reader to the Z family in a very personal way. )

“Here, everybody took us in just like family,” Craig Z said.

“We thank you for the love and support in this community,” Mr. Z said.

Post-story note since I don’t wanna leave readers of Absolute Write hanging—Mr. Z died 11 days before his birthday. Pilot Jay Leatherwood said Mr. Z is going to get his plane ride anyway ride. Mr. Z did on Sunday, May 13. Mr. and Mrs. Z’s ashes were combined into one bag. The combined ashes were dumped over Craig Z tent plant and the surrounding fields. Working on this story now.

Ben Baker is a South Georgia newspaper editor, author and evangelist. He’s a member of the Southern Humorists and can be emailed at redneckgenius AT gmail.com>.

Interview with Kathie Fong Yoneda

Reading Between The Lines: An Interview with Kathie Fong Yoneda
By Christina Hamlett

What is Hollywood looking for? Ms. Kathie Fong Yoneda has seen it all in 25+ years of story analysis and development at Paramount, MGM, Columbia, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Filmways, Inc. and Universal Pictures. An accomplished speaker, author, and international teacher, she shares her views on today’s entertainment industry . . . and what makes a winning script.

Being a script development consultant has to rank as one of life’s “dream jobs!” How did you get from the halls of C.K. McClatchy High to the bright lights of Paramount Studios?

Well, back in high school I worked on the school paper so I was basically in Journalism and Art.  Although I majored in English in college, my original plan was to go to California Fashion Institute.  It didn’t take too long to flounder around and discover that fashion design wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do but I still knew I wanted to do something very creative.  I know my parents, especially my mother, really preferred that I pursue something more stable and conservative like being a teacher or a pharmacist or a secretary.  I actually granted their wish by becoming a secretary but as a secretary in the motion picture industry.  As a matter of fact, I was the first Asian female hired on a full-time basis at Universal back in 1969; that was when less than one tenth of one percent of the people who were in the industry were minorities.

Was it even more of an ol’ boys club than it is now?

Oh yes. Very, very traditionally ol’ boys. One of the people who really helped me out, though, was my boss, Dick Shepherd, who was the head of production at MGM. He was a production executive at Warner Brothers when we met and I became his assistant. In between that, he became a producer and when he was away on location, the scripts would really start to pile up. I was just so hungry for knowledge about things and I was also very organized, both of which led to my reading all of these scripts. When he came back, he’d start looking over the mail and I’d say, “Oh, you don’t have to read that one. It’s really not very good.”

Never underestimate the power of a good assistant!

Anyway, I’d proceed to tell him what it was about and why I didn’t like it, and he said, “Well, can you do me a favor?  Can you write up a couple paragraphs about the story?” To his surprise—and mine, too, I was very good at it. After all, book reports were one of my favorite things in school, and reading scripts is essentially the same thing.

It’s not just about commenting on the story, though, is it?

It’s a lot of different factors, actually. It’s the characters and the structure, it’s the production value, the dialogue—it’s the whole picture, literally. I tell people that structure is merely a beginning, a middle, and an end and trying to make the whole thing interesting. If you go back to our common ancestors—cave people sitting around a campfire telling stories—what those stories have in common with what’s being written today is that they all had to have an intriguing set-up. They had to have complications and challenges and you had to have a satisfying ending that entertained everyone and wrapped up all the loose ends.

So how did you transition from secretary to studio reader?

Well, by the time my boss went to MGM and became head of production, I was really hooked on doing script coverage and he made me a deal.  Basically he said that if I set up the office and trained a new secretary—my replacement—he’d do whatever he could to get me into the Story Analysts Guild.

And what’s that?

It’s a very closed union shop and all the studios have to hire union story analysts.  The main distinction is that story analysts read material only for the studios.  Then there’s a group of freelance readers who read and do coverages for agencies and independent production companies.  The freelancers don’t belong to the union and make considerably less money.

But back to your career path—

Well, I made it into the Guild on my first try and started to move around, building on what I had already learned.  One of those moves, in fact, led me to become a development executive for Disney for 8 years during the time when Eisner and Katzenberg first moved over there and wanted to get a lot of new movies going.

What are you doing now?

I’ve worked for 9 years now for Paramount in their longform division and evaluate books and scripts for TV, cable movies and occasionally mini-series.  A lot of the movies you see on Showtime, for instance, are things that Paramount may have done.  I’ve also been doing a number of speaking engagements and workshops around the world and even have a book coming out in the summer of 2002 (Michael Wiese, Publisher).

There’s a lot to be said about how technology is shrinking the globe.  Is it inversely expanding the opportunities for new writers?

Absolutely! What I find really encouraging is that because there is so much technology, there are so many different ways to pursue storytelling. Unlike some of my associates, I don’t view technology as a foe or feel as if it will spell the end of motion pictures because kids are glued to the Internet.  What I see is that there are a lot more websites available for people to express themselves and to get critiques of their work. A lot of the studios now, for instance, have people who are assigned to surf the Net and to take a look at some of the projects that are out there. Aspiring filmmakers can get very industrious with their digital camcorders and are producing “mini-trailers” that are getting the attention of these studio execs.  Thanks to the Internet, no longer is Hollywood like that big black monolith that no one could figure out in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Based on your experience as a reader and a movie-goer, are films today getting better or worse?

Well, I do think that movies which have a lot of special effects or action or sci-fi/fantasy are a lot more eye-catching.  And, of course, the largest movie-going audiences today are the young adult males. That’s probably not going to change. In fact, it’s been that way for at least the 30 years I’ve been in the industry!  Remember how every other movie in the 80’s and early 90’s was some kind of an action film?  Well, it seems as if the public—and even all those male adults—finally got a little tired of it and then came the trend of doing scary movies.  Horror movies in a way, but still sort of campy.  Finally, the trend in the late 90’s and into 2001 are movies along the order of Something About Mary and American Pie.  What you notice, though, about scary movies and the latest crop of teen movies is that there aren’t a lot of special effects; in both cases, they’re mostly about the anticipation of something big happening.  That’s the irony of these films which, coincidentally is what one of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock, used to do; it was the anticipation that you knew what was happening or what the danger or risk was, and yet you still couldn’t keep your eyes off the screen!  But back to the question, I think that audiences have gotten a lot smarter and they’re expecting more than just special effects. They watch things because they’re different.

What about the copycat syndrome, that insatiable quest for writers to imitate what is currently “hot”?
I think what happens is that people see a film that’s different and that they really like and their reaction is, “Wow! I can write something just like that!” What doesn’t sink in their heads, though, is that by the time they write this thing and give it to someone—even if gets snatched up right away—it’s going to take at least another 18 months before it gets made and comes out.  By the time that happens, you’re going to be the third or fourth or eighth person to that theme and it’s already old news!  By the way, the top grossing movies of all time—the top 10—are almost always family movies.  And the one thing that sets them Cover of Kathie Fong Yoneda's The Script Selling Gameapart is the fact that they all have in common a look at the human condition as told through characters that audiences instantly related to and could believe in. It’s something that writers tend to forget because they’re concentrating on the high-tech aspects of telling the best possible story instead of looking at how to simply touch the audience in some way and make them say, “Oh my God, I’ve been there, too!”  Whether it’s getting them to realize that they have the same fears or the same phobia or the same dream, a movie needs to say something to you and you need to respond to it in such a way—through the heart or through the soul—that you just don’t want to leave your theater seat even when the usher says, “Okay, bud, move along.  The next group is coming through.”

As a studio reader, what are some of the major turn-offs when a new script falls into your lap?

What overall is really bad is when people try to cram too much into a story—or too little.  It’s about not having a clear-cut view of what your story is and changing back and forth as far as what the goal is going to be.  The second thing is not fully developing the characters.  Some people know how a story should start and how it should end but they just don’t know how to have the characters carry the story all the way through.  Character and dialogue are actually the two most important things for me, probably even more important than the story.  Most of the stories that readers at studios read are actually variations of things we’ve all heard before—but with a twist.  What makes those twists unique always has something to do with the characters and how they look at life and, accordingly, react to it.

So what kinds of things really make you sit up and take notice?

I’d have to say that it’s what I just mentioned, only put them in reverse!  I also have to add that I like it when I can tell that there’s a real sense of passion behind the writing. Sometimes when I feel that level of passion coming through in the words—a story that’s personal and really means everything to the person who wrote it—this is something that comes from such an honest place, I can’t help but be attracted to it and be interested in how it’s going to turn out!

Kathie Fong Yoneda is the author of The Script Selling Game: A Hollywood Insider’s Look at Getting Your Script Sold and Produced. You can find her Website kathiefongyoneda.com.

Former actress and director Christina Hamlett is the author of 17 books, 98 plays and musicals, and over 250 magazine and newspaper articles on the performing arts, humor, travel, health, and how-tos for aspiring authors. You can find her at authorhamlett.com</em>

Active and Passive Voices

By Genevieve Fosa

I was surprised to find out how many otherwise well-educated people are confused over the meaning and use of active and passive voices.

In a nutshell, with active voice, the subject does whatever it is, and with passive voice, whatever it is is done to the subject by an amorphous other.

Editors will tell you that active voice is preferable to passive, but for those who are confused, this dictum is meaningless. Even the grammar check on Windows word processing programs will point out those places where passive voice is used, as though it were grammatically incorrect. Passive voice is not bad grammar, it simply isn’t as strong as active.

“The election was lost,” is perfectly good English, but it is passive voice. We don’t know who lost the election, merely that it was lost. “George Bush Jr. lost the election” is active voice. Here we know exactly who lost the election. It’s an excellent statement. But it is wishful thinking on my part, and this article is not supposed to be political.

Not long ago, some broad thinking people came all the way up from Kansas to tell us poor people here in Kennebunk, Maine, about right thinking. You could tell they had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to put their posters together. They marched up and down in front of several of our churches. (Please note the active voice in this last sentence, even though I used the word ‘they.’ I did specify who ‘they’ were in the sentence before.) In fact, I had the distinct feeling these people had hired a professional to help them with their posters, as they were all so neat, and clear, and easy to read. And yes, the statements on them were in active voice. Here is what several of them said: “God hates Gays.” “Gays are hated” would have been a truer statement, but it would have used the old no-no of passive voice, and would not have gotten people’s attention the way “God hates Gays” did. By their creative use of active voice, these charming people managed to get the attention not only of people going to and from church, but of several news stations and newspapers from all over the state.

On a more serious note, active voice is more attention-getting, and this is why editors tend to like it better. Even so, there are times and places when passive voice is the more appropriate one to use. These would be situations when you are setting a mood in a descriptive passage. “The sky was lit with jagged streaks of lightning, and the earth soaked with rain” is an okay statement, describing a storm. It is useful when you want to draw your reader’s attention somewhere else. In this case, the strong, active verbs would be reserved for your protagonist.

However, “Lightening crackled and roared across the sky, and rain poured down, soaking into, and flooding all the land around,” is definitely active, calling attention to the storm. This statement is far more dramatic than the one above, and for this reason, is more likely to hold your reader’s attention.

Genivive Fosa blogs at TheBestWord.net

The Seven Deadly Sins of Freelance Writing

Guest Post by Francesca StaAna

Wondering why your articles aren’t getting a lot of views or clicks? Stressing about the fact that you’re not getting enough repeat clients?  You might be committing these deadly freelance writing mistakes:

Silence (Not following up) – Contrary to what some might think, just because a prospect doesn’t immediately respond to your first call or email, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested. Yes, most of them probably don’t need your services, but there ARE some potential clients who are simply too busy to respond. This is especially true when it comes to sending emails. People are bombarded with emails on a daily basis, so you can’t really blame them if they overlook yours.

Always follow up. Don’t let fear, pride, or laziness stop you from doing it. Whether you’re cold-emailing a potential customer or reaching out to blogs to see if they’re willing to publish your guest post, make it a point to reach out in about a  week or so after you’ve first made contact to see if they’re interested.

Ignorance (Not reading enough) – Reading should be a necessity for writers. Doing so on a regular basis allows you to appreciate the beauty of the written word, gives you inspiration, and more importantly, makes you a better writer. It opens you up to different styles of writing and helps you develop your own.

On a more pragmatic level, reading can give you new material to write about. Can’t think of anything new to jot down on your blog? Pick up a recent issue of an industry magazine and see what’s happening in the world. Check out the latest posts on your favorite websites and get different points of view on issues. I guarantee you’ll find something to write about.

Carelessness (Failing to catch typographical and grammatical errors) – Committing typos is unavoidable. Publishing them on the other hand, is a different story.

Typographical and grammatical errors are embarrassing at best, and misleading at worst. One misplaced letter or punctuation mark can shift the meaning of a statement, so make sure that you thoroughly proofread your writing especially when it’s supposed to go out to the public.

Have a second set of eyes read through your work before sending it in. If you’re on your own, step out of the room for a few minutes or do something else for a while then go back and re-read what you’ve written. Personally, I’ve found that changing the font and color of the text, as well as reading aloud makes proofreading so much easier.

Self-Absorption (Focusing on yourself rather than the audience) – Whether you’re pitching to clients or writing a blog post, always remember one thing: It’s about THEM, not you. Think about it. When you’re out on a date, wouldn’t you be turned off by someone who only talks about himself or herself without bothering to ask you about your life?

Similarly, one of the quickest ways to get readers to lose interest is by failing to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (Trust me, they’re all asking that question.)

Unoriginality (Failing to use your own unique voice) One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a writer (and as a person in general) is trying to be someone you’re not. While it’s perfectly acceptable to admire and be inspired by other people’s writing styles, it’s another thing to try and copy them. Instead, study the writing styles of others to develop your own unique flavor. You’ll be a much better writer and have more fun while you’re at it.

Also avoid using words or phrases that are not “you” in an effort to sound smart and important. In most cases, writing isn’t about sounding intelligent. It’s about getting your message across in the most effective way possible.

Close Mindedness (Refusing to try other things) – So you’re set in your ways. I get it. I can be the same way too. However, not going out there to try new things can seriously hinder your growth.

For instance, I know some writers who were reluctant to market using Pinterest because it was too “image based” and they assumed that it wouldn’t be an effective medium to promote their work. I paid no attention to those claims and tried it anyway. I used tools such as  PicMonkey and   Share As Image to make my words “pinnable”, and guess what? The Pinterest community took notice. My site got more clicks and I even got a few client calls because of it.

The takeaway? Don’t automatically turn your back on ideas or tools just because you’re not familiar with them. Keep an open mind at all times and try new things—even if you’re not used to them. After all, you never know how effective (or ineffective) something is until you try it out for yourself.

Social Aversion (Refusing to network or collaborate with others) Don’t treat all your fellow writers as the competition. Instead, see them as teachers, peers, or even friends. Similar to being closed minded, not opening up your professional circle can stop you from growing and learning new things.

You can pick up a lot of new ideas and connections by attending conferences and networking mixers, so try to be present at these events whenever you can. If you’re more of an introvert, start by networking online. Comment on blogs and connect with people via social media

Your Turn

Are you guilty of any of these sins? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

______________________________________

Francesca is the founder of Credible Copywriting and specializes in writing blog posts, web content and press releases for startups, Internet companies, and mobile app developers. She’s currently developing Copywriting 2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring copywriters the ins and outs of the biz. Sign up here and get notified when the course launches.

FOGcon!

Guest Post by Lynn Alden Kendall

Writing speculative fiction—fantasy, alternate history, and science fiction—entails imagining a world as well as a story. Perhaps that’s why SF/F writers and readers attend conventions like FOGcon: to immerse themselves in the world of speculative fiction.

FOGcon is a book-oriented SF/F convention held every March at the Walnut Creek Marriott near San Francisco. Organized and run by writers and fans of SF/F, FOGcon is an intimate, not-for-profit event that offers members a weekend of readings, panel discussions, writers’ workshops, and opportunities to mingle. Each year we choose a different theme and invite guests whose writing exemplifies the best work on that topic.

This year’s convention runs from March 8 – 10, and the theme is Law, Order, and Crime. The Honored Guests are Terry Bisson, Susan R. Matthews, and the late Anthony Boucher. (That’s right; in addition to honoring living writers, we always have an Honored Ghost.) The con is always held the weekend of the second Sunday in March—time-change weekend.

FOGcon, now in its third year, has already earned a reputation as a fascinating event where creative people gather. Last year, acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson led a workshop where people uncovered their cultural secrets by playing games. We have hosted writing exercises with an instructor, meetups for people of color and for people on social media, and an annual participatory group world-building exercise. There is also a dealers room where you can buy books, jewelry, art prints—even get a massage.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been a mecca for writers since the days of Mark Twain, and FOGcon draws on the rich local culture of SF/F writers. As a community-led, book-focused convention, FOGcon resembles a salon where you can meet and mingle with other writers at every level of achievement from beginner to Nebula winner. You can discuss craft with professionals and learn from fans what works for them and what doesn’t. If you’re a new writer, FOGcon is an ideal place for your first dip into the speculative fiction pool.

Come to FOGcon if you want to:

  • Spend a weekend with knowledgeable readers and award-winning SF/F writers, engaging in passionate conversation about the books and ideas you love.
  • Take part in lively, informative panel discussions on the topics that interest you most, from fresh ideas about future societies to practical advice on the craft of writing and editing.
  • Stretch your authorial muscles by participating in world-building exercises and a 75-minute writing workout.
  • Learn from experts about copyright issues, effective ways to plan your writing, how to build suspense, and creating sympathetic protagonists on the wrong side of the law.
  • Listen to readings of new work by top writers in the field.

And those are just the official events—FOGcon offers plenty of informal fun as well, from spontaneous discussions (and plenty of free food) in the hospitality suite to karaoke, a game room, and meetups for people with special interests. Membership costs are less than a hundred dollars for the weekend, very low compared to commercial conventions. Moreover, our hotel offers free parking, a swimming pool, a good restaurant, a newly upgraded fitness center, and a free shuttle to downtown Walnut Creek, all for a superb convention rate.

Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco, is a charming small city distinguished by its superb restaurants (from cafes to sushi to four-star dining), excellent shopping, and a convenient location. If you’re interested in exploring wild California, Mount Diablo is just a few minutes away by car. A convenient commuter train just 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel can take you into San Francisco, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and an international center for food, arts, and culture.

Getting to the con is easy. You can drive to Walnut Creek—the hotel offers free parking—or fly into SFO or Oakland and take the BART train to Walnut Creek. (Yes, the hotel has a free shuttle from the Walnut Creek BART station.) Fly in on Thursday night and be part of the fun from the beginning.

Lynn Alden Kendall
http://www.lynnkendall.com

The greatest thing in the world is the Alphabet
as all knowledge is contained therein
except the wisdom of putting it together
from an old German bookplate

Submitomancy!

ETA: Submitomancy fell short of the funding goal, unfortunately, so isn’t going to happen. (Thank you, Zac, for your suggestion that we add a note about the project’s status.)

Guest Post by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

I first experienced the magical power of recent responses on Absolute Write. I had just started sending out my first novel (now wrapped in lavender-scented tissue paper and trunked) and I discovered the treasure trove of agent information here on the forums. It was like I’d gained entry into a secret club. Suddenly I knew that this agent was a quick responder and that one often gave personal responses and how long the previous person had been waiting for a response. I got great insight on what specific agents were looking for and the type of novels that were getting full requests. And most importantly, I didn’t feel so alone.

When I shifted to short stories, I looked for similar resources. I discovered tracking short stories was a bit more complicated than novel submissions. I ended up with a combination solution: I had a spreadsheet, a website and a piece of software called Sonar3 in order to try to track all of the information that was important to me. When the admins of that website changed their system, I suddenly realised, you know what? I can do better than this.

I started a list of everything I wanted: manuscript data, submission history, market listings, recent responses, contract and payment information for every sale, exclusivity clauses, reprint options… it was a long list. And before I knew it, I was writing a detailed design specification for my perfect system: Submitomancy.

The project needed two things: development funds and a critical mass of users. And yet, I wanted to keep it free. It was an easy decision to start with the crowd-funding model, which would defray development costs and also gain a commitment from a starter group who wanted the service.

If the campaign succeeds, then the core development is out of the way before we start. The free services will encourage users to enter their data in return for a basic tracking service. This will include a basic search of the market listings, submission tracking and average response times per market.

But if you subscribe, you get access to the fun stuff! Lots of reports and data, of course: expanded manuscript tracking, power search, recent responses, market alerts and personalised notifications. But you also get access to social options like profile pages, status updates and badges! Badges might not seem an obvious feature for a submission tracker, I know.  But having been a part of such a powerful community, I wanted to make it easy to share the our successes and struggles with each other.

If there’s enough interest in Submitomancy then I’ll be refining the details with the Early Access subscribers. But the reports and the support can only be as good as the people who take part. That’s why I’m exploring this with you as a no-risk project right now. If you think you’d enjoy being a part of Submitomancy, then please support the campaign and tell your friends.

http://www.indiegogo.com/submitomancy/

Thrillerfest 2013!

Dive Into The World of Thrillers at THRILLERFEST

Guest Post, by Alma Katsu 

If you write commercial fiction and are looking for a great writing conference, I recommend you check out the International Thriller Writers (ITW) annual event, ThrillerFest. It’s a four-day extravaganza held every year in early July in New York City, close to the publishing industry to ensure participation by editors and agents as well as lots of published authors. If you’re looking for a way to become part of the mystery and thriller genre, you might find that this is the conference you’ve been waiting for.

There are two things that most writers want when they’re at the pre-publication stage: advice on how to make their stories better, and opportunities to meet the editors and literary agents who will make their dreams come true. Craftfest and Agentfest, part of Thrillerfest, are designed to fill those needs.

At Craftfest, you’ll attend sessions on the craft of writing commercial fiction, taught by bestselling authors and some of the top editors in the field. There aren’t many conferences where you’ll learn about dramatic structure or characterization from Lee Child, John Sandford, Steve Berry, or acclaimed agent Donald Maass. While the line-up of presenters changes from year to year  at Craftfest, you’ll find that every instructor at is of the same high caliber.

There are typically over 50 agents at Agentfest to take your pitches. You can see some of the agents who’ve attended in the past here: if you’re looking to pitch to the top agents representing mystery, thriller and suspense, this is where you’ll find them all in one place. And if you’ve never pitched before, don’t worry, there’s a workshop beforehand to teach you the ropes.

At Thrillerfest, you’ll get two days of multiple tracks of panels and spotlight interviews with the biggest names in the field, all designed to teach you about the business of writing commercial fiction. You’ll find panels with some of the most respected editors from the Big Six Publishers: Neil Nyren, senior vice-president and publisher of Putnam, and Mark Tavani, senior editor at Ballantine Books, have been speakers in past years. There are also workshops on related subjects—everything from martial arts to the espionage business—taught by experts.

One of the best things about Thrillerfest is that you get the opportunity to network with authors of all levels of experience—from long-time bestsellers to novices. At my first Thrillerfest, imagine my surprise when I was joined at breakfast by Erica Spindler and Heather Graham! That’s one of the most amazing things about Thrillerfest: everyone is approachable and open.

And while the opportunity to meet big name authors in your genre is a pretty compelling reason to attend, an even better one is that at Thrillerfest you have the chance to meet writers just like you who will likely go on to be your ally in the industry throughout your career—and I can attest to that myself. I met legal thriller writer Allison Leotta when we sat next to each other on stage for the 2011 Debut Author class and today we’re best buds, calling each other for advice and appearing at events together.

As a matter of fact, that’s why I volunteered to write this guest post for ITW: I’ve gotten a lot from Thrillerfest over the years and I wanted to give something back by spreading the word. If you’ve been looking for a writer’s conference that will open doors for you, you might want to read about a few of Thrillerfest’s success stories:

  • Boyd Morrison, author of THE ROSWELL CONSPIRACY, THE CATALYST, ROGUE WAVE and THE VAULT (Pocket Books)

Are you ready to find out more? Click on the links above to go to the Thrillerfest website; you’ll find everything you need. And if you come to Thrillerfest in July, make sure to look for me and say hello!

Alma Katsu is the author of THE TAKER and THE RECKONING, paranormal thrillers published by Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. THE TAKER was an ALA Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 and has rights that have been sold in 15 languages.