Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Warning

Artisan Publishing May have Unintended Consequences



Proceed at Your Own Risk



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Guest Post with Author Traci McDonald - Inspiration is a Fickle Mistress

The Inspiration I need To Get Myself Writing by Traci McDonald

Inspiration is a fleeting and fickle mistress. There are days when I cannot find the inspiration to do anything but take a shower. While she is an unreliable mistress, work is her solid partner. He is not as pretty or as charming as she is, but he never lets you down. When inspiration is off playing with the fall colors in the orchard, work is harvesting the apples. While inspiration sings her melody, work is playing the music. During inspiration’s pouting tantrums, refusing to cooperate, work is soothing her hurt and anger until she comes to her senses.

I get most of my story ideas from those pure flashes of inspiration that come when the mistress is content, peaceful and whispering in my mind. I write the best I can when she is fed, appeased and lounging beside me; but I get nothing when work does not accompany her.

I find her in music, lyrics, stanza’s voices and instrumentation. I chase her when I read books, blogs, articles and research. I fight her when I am plotting novels, out-lines, short stories and blog posts. I have discovered though that no matter my relationship with inspiration; I can only make dreams come true with work.

The inspiration I need to get myself writing is just a flash of pure imagination. That flash creates a spark in my mind and an idea begins to form. The more the idea turns to something real, the more my fingers ache to sit down and write. She gets my mind and heart flowing, but he puts my hands up on the keyboard and convinces me to give her a voice.

About Traci McDonald: 
Debut author Traci McDonald has been a writer since she figured out how to make words on a page. Traci wrote for English classes like most people, but she wrote everything else in between. Traci won minor competitions with short stories, poetry and lyrics before becoming visually impaired. That is just a political correct way of saying Traci McDonald is blind. Traci lost her eyesight 17 years ago, but it never stopped her from living life and following her dreams. She has struggled with her health and raising kids, prior to the publication of her first novel. Traci is very excited to see her dream in life coming true. She lives in a small cozy town in the Mojave Desert, less than 150 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Traci McDonald has four other books in the process of becoming published and a whole list of others she plans to write.

You can find out more about Traci McDonald and her debut romance novel during her World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

Saturday, October 27, 2012


NaNoWriMo is coming up. One month, one novel, 50,000 words. Spouses to be ignored, kids to feed themselves, emails to go unanswered, Internet temptation to be resisted, hours with butt planted firmly in chair at keyboard. That is1666.67 words cranked out each day. Are you up for the challenge?

There is a site for it: The way it works is you go to the site, sign up, and begin writing on November 1. Oh, there’s one other step before you write, according to the NaNoWriMo site. “Begin procrastinating by reading through all the great advice and funny stories in the forums…. Get excited. Get nervous. Try to rope someone else into doing this with you. Eat lots of chocolate and stockpile noveling rewards.” Not sure how the chocolate part words, but I believe you have to provide your own.

During the month, the goal is to write daily, 1666.67 words. Then you login and update your word count. If you’ve met the 50,000-word goal by the end of the month, you win. They put you on the “hallowed Winner’s Page” and send you an e-certificate. I think the chocolate can be used as either a reward once your 1666.67 are done or as a crutch during the process.

The thing began in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1991. There were 21 of them who concocted this idea because, among other reasons, they figured getting dates, as novelists would be easier than as non-novelists. Whatever the motivation, as long as it works. The next year 140 writers participated and it has grown annually. By the end of last November 36,843 writers had met the word count among the 256,618 writers who had signed on. Competing against that many people, no wonder I haven’t been published.

Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds blog had an interesting article last year on NaNoWriMo. The blog is entertaining though, be warned, spliced with expletive deletives. He mentions the sitting-down-and-actual-writing requirement. Chuck can write about 1000 words an hour. You can determine how long it takes him to meet 1666.67 and figure your own speed as well. If you give yourself weekends off, that means 2300 words daily for the rest of the week. He warns that after 50,000 words, you’ve only just begun the novel. It’s not even your fist draft, but your zero draft. You’re placing quantity above quality and come Dec. 1, you’ll have all the sticks but will still need to build the house. October Wendig declares should be NaStoPlaMo, national story planning month and December becomes NaEdYoShiMo in which you edit what you slapped down in November. The full article is here:

Still going for NaNoWriMo? Good luck. And Coscto has tasty chocolate at affordable prices. Better stock up.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Ancient Halloween Story

I'm barely posting this in time for one of my Friday posts.

Here's a story I wrote in elementary school. Unfortunately, it's not dated. It's on two of those big sheets of writing paper we had back then. 

The Scared Ghost
One Halloween a ghost named Cowardly went out and hid behind a tree. Then all at once a witch appeared. Cowardly was scared. Then a skeleton came. The witch was scared. Then a goblin came. Then the skeleton was scared. Then Cowardly asked, "Are you guys cowards too?" "Yes," they all said at once. The end.

 Happy Halloween to all of my Utah Children's Writers friends!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gatekeepers and Advocates

by Deren Hansen

We often talk of all the gatekeepers we have to get past in order to get published. We even say things like, “vetted by publishers”—as if publishers where somehow the guardians of all that is good and true. Unfortunately our sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking about the role of publishers. Specifically, we confuse gatekeeping with advocacy.

Gatekeeping means choosing who will pass and who will be excluded. It also implies an endorsement: if the bouncer at the club lets you past the velvet rope you know you're one of the cool people.

Advocacy is an important element in maintaining the social fabric. Obvious self-interest makes us wary of both the promoter and the product. But if a nominally disinterested party champions someone’s cause, we take it as evidence the case has merit. That’s why we need lawyers and agents.

Publishers provide advocacy through investment. Talk is cheap. Backing up that talk by investing a substantial sum in a book says something. Of course there’s no direct correlation between the amount invested and the quality of the book. But assuming publishers are rational economic actors, if the publisher is willing to bet so much on a project, perhaps it’s worth our attention too.

Publishers are not pure advocates because they have a financial interest in the sale of the book. To compensate, the industry has developed layers of structural advocates. From the wholesaler, distributor, and retailer model of the distribution chain to the web of reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and teachers who promote books and reading in general, the publishing industry, which is just as commercial as any other, manages to come out looking like a cultural institution.

The new world of frictionless, costless e-publishing doesn’t change the need for advocacy. You may be able to establish a reputation by building an online social network. You may inspire readers to recommend your work. Regardless of the expression, the underlying pattern remains the same: to be credible you need independent third parties willing to expend their own time and resources to vouch for your work.

One of the few things you can’t do as an artisan publisher is be your own advocate. Clearly you must put a great deal of time and effort into promoting your work. But no matter how much effort you put into it, marketing can never become advocacy because you’re not an independent party.

If your artisan publishing effort expands to include other authors, you can become an advocate for their work to a small degree. But compared to the major publishing houses that have the financial wherewithal to lavish seven-figure advances on celebrities your own investment will hardly stand out.

The practical upshot is that in order to succeed as an artisan publisher you must nurture a network of independent advocates without any of the structural advantages enjoyed by large publishing companies. Moreover, you will have to compete with those companies for readers’ attention every step of the way. The only way to build credibility and to attract advocates is to keep showing up: to consistently deliver high quality content. You need to be prepared for a slow, patient game.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Monday, October 22, 2012

There's No Crying in Writing

By Julie Daines

I'm sharing just a quick writing tip today that I got from award winning author Martine Leavitt.

She states that one of the rules of writing for MG and YA is that your main character can only cry once in the whole manuscript. Maybe twice--if the situation really warrants it.

Why? Tears are like swear words in writing, less is more. Tears tend to jump out of the page and draw excess attention to themselves. It only takes one or two well placed shedding of tears to punctuate the story, any more and it starts to feel like an overused physical cliche.

I've been reading a lot of YA books this fall, and I've seen a lot of weepy main characters. I've come to the conclusion that I agree with Martine.

So before your main character swipes at her eyes, dashes away salty drops, buries her head in her pillow and weeps, or collapses on the floor in sobs, make sure you've carefully chosen the one exact moment when those tears will mean the most.

Any other quick tips you can think of?

See my post on Fall, Shakespeare, Life and Death at

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Writing a Book Series with Award-winning Author Kai Strand

One question I'm asked a lot by beginning writers or readers of children's or YA is do I write series. Over the years it seems more and more authors are writing series be it a children's picture book or young adult novel. 

I believe there are a few reasons why this is happening. The first and most common reason is because the main storyline/plot is too big to wrap up in one book with enough details being shared with the reader. The second reason is some characters in picture books to young adult novels are so beloved the author keeps finding new situations and plots for their main character.

This is why I asked friend and award-winning author Kai Strand to share her thoughts on writing a book series.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Character questions

So I’ve been living with these people for two years now, but do I really know my characters?

I believe I should know them, but I’m not sure I do. Are they real? Are they kid-like? Do they stay true to themselves? Are they complex enough?

Kathleen Duey has a few ideas about characters. She taught at WIFYR a couple of years ago. I debated joining her workshop but didn’t. I was totally pleased to be with Claudia Mills. I did attend one of Kathleen’s afternoon sessions. Then I went to a second one. She’s an amazing writer and so willing to share her expertise of the craft.

Kathleen’s suggests interviewing your characters, to ask them questions.
Back then, I had just found my characters and her questions helped me locate them. As I put the finishing touches on the revision, I recently revisited those questions and am asking them again. It is interesting to see how my characters have grown. So it is a good exercise to do no matter what stage your project is in.

Kathleen says to ask your MC things like what do they want most in life and what is in the way of them getting it? You can ask questions in general or you can ask the characters directly. For example, why do you want to be in my book? Can my story live without you?

On her Throwing Up Words blog, Carol Lynch Williams also had some questions that you could ask your characters. Why are you the main character of my story? What if I were to make one of the other ones the main character and you a minor character? Carol lists some questions you can ask yourself about them: Are their actions coming naturally out of the story or are you making things happen the way you think they should because you thought you had an end in mind and the book has changed directions? (That last one is a thinker.) Why does your character say what she says? Is this her? Or is this you? Carol says to make her real, not an older person. This is especially true if you’re writing children’s fiction. Other questions to ask: What made your character do what she just did? Was that natural to the story or are you forcing things around?

Dr. Suzanna Henshon suggests asking how the main character’s personality impacts the plot. How do the plot and the main characters conjoin?

Hopefully the main people in my story improve, as does the story itself.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Is they is, or is they are?

by Scott Rhoades

A few days ago, one of my friends asked the following on Facebook:

How would you properly say, "If you or your child are (is)....?"

 The simple answer is that you go with the verb form that applies to the noun or pronoun nearest the verb. You are, but your child is, so you use is. But it's one of those things where, even if you know the rule, if you look at it long enough you might start to question it.

The or makes it singular. If you used and, the verb would be are, because you and your child become  a plural noun phrase. 

Let's try a similar sentence, in the spirit of the current season:

If your son or his parakeet is being eaten by ravenous leeches...

The answer verb is still is, but I'll bet this one made some of you wonder. Throw in an are and I'll bet at least a few of you will feel less sure about the correct verb, especially if you read it out loud.

On the other hand:

If your son or his parakeets are being dissolved by the globulous acid monster...

Order matters. If you put the kid first, you'd get: 

If your child or you are going to dig up the bodies in the back yard for dinner...

This next example is where it starts to feel tricky:

If your sons or their guppy is being gulped down by toothless witch babies...

It's easy to question the simple noun-closest-to-the-verb explanation here. It feels wrong, because one of the subjects is plural. As it turns out, it actually is wrong, at least according to some grammarians, although leniency is often granted in a case like this. Or maybe the way to look at it is both ways are right. Ish. As we all know, any rule has exceptions. According to many grammarians, the closest-noun rule does not apply if either of the subject nouns is plural. Whether I use is or are, it doesn't feel more right than if I use the other. This is a case where I would rewrite the sentence because even the right verb form has an incorrect feel to it. But that's not easy in this example. If I had written:

If your sons or the guppy is being gulped down by toothless witch babies...

I'd switch the nouns around, putting the plural closest to the verb, which makes it feel better:

If the guppy or your sons are being gulped down by toothless witch babies...

However, that ownership-showing their might be important in the sentence. In that case, you're either going to offend the a-plural-in-either-position-requires-are crowd or the closest-to-the-verb gang. I would look for a way to rewrite surrounding sentences that allows you to choose a less contentious construct.

Whenever you are faced with a problem like this, read it aloud. As a writer, you most likely have a good feel for the language and so you can usually rely on the feel of the sentence, on your instinct. If you're still not sure, look it up. However, if a problem feels that sticky, it usually means that rewriting should be considered. Even if you wrote it correctly, a sentence that requires a tricky grammar rule is likely to feel wrong or confusing to some readers, which will pull them out of your story, even if only for a second. You don't want to do that, so opt for a construct that flows naturally and is clear and easily understood without requiring the reader to think about grammar, and without creating a speed bump that interrupts the flow of the story.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Commitment to Life

In my ever growing stack of books on my nightstand, I have a precious volume of WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, by Donald Mass. Among all the wonderful advise that just seeps from this book, the one that I have been thinking about a lot these days is about how "to catch the mood of our times." In other words, he talks about how to give our story a dosis of reality so that the reader, whoever our intended audience may be, can identify with our characters so much, the characters' stakes become the readers' stakes. Isn't this a wonderful concept? In what ways does the outcome of a story affect our lives so much?

In his book, Donal Mass estates that "to write about life, you must live it." Also that "writing the breakout novel demands a commitment to life... take your stakes from life, and they will resonate like a temple gong."

In the different writers' workshops I've attended through the years, I've often heard similar advice: have other interests besides writing, take a dance/drawing/Zumba/skydiving class, have fun with friends, take yourself on an artist date, read outside of the genre you usually read/write, enjoy nature.

There's a scene in the Little Women movie, that perfectly illustrates this concept. Following her dream of becoming a an author, Jo has written a book she's super anxious for Mr Bhaer to read. The next day she wants to hear his opinion, probably imagining his lavish praise of the book she worked so hard on. If Mr Bhaer has an attribute, that attribute is honesty. He says that he didn't feel the book came from her heart. He goes on to say, "write about life, write from your heart."

In the movie, Jo applies his advice (after some heartfelt tears, of course) and writes the story she was always meant to write. 

It doesn't mean we should all write memoirs about our lives, that there's no room for fantasy or science fiction. There wouldn't be Harry Potter, Narnia, or Avatar! Instead, it means that to make our stories come alive, we, the storyteller, the wordsmith, must know that it is that feels like life. Draw from our experiences and infuse the essence of emotions in our words.

What books have you read in which the stakes have been so high and real that you saw yourself in the story? What books resonate with you so much they feel like "real life"even though they are fiction?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why the Traditional Separation between Authors and Publishers?

by Deren Hansen

The broad-brush functional differences between the right and left hemispheres of the brain have become a mainstay of pop psychology: the right brain is the seat of creativity while the left brain has a monopoly on detail work. Some people personify the two as the accountant and the artist in your head.

It's hard to say whether that simple dichotomy will stand the test of our growing understanding of neuroscience, but it is a useful way to characterize the traditional division of labor between author and publisher. It's easy to caricature the author as artist in contrast to—and sometimes in conflict with—the publisher as accountant and business manager.

As with all common notions, this analogy has a kernel of truth: authors provide the novel (in both senses of the word) content and publishers take care of all the details involved in preparing, packaging, and presenting that content in the marketplace.

Of course, the divide isn’t between creative and non-creative work. Writing involves plenty of drudgery and the best marketing is thoroughly creative. But there is an important distinction between the kinds of creativity and detail work that are most effective in the traditional roles of author and publisher. And now that many authors are expected to provide a substantial portion of the marketing effort they find they need to master an entirely different set of skills.

As challenging as it may be for an author with a traditional publishing arrangement to switch writing and marketing hats, self-publishing means that you have to wear both hats all the time. Put another way, whether you know it or not you’re signing up to bridge the traditional right brain/left brain split between authors and publishers in your own little head when you self-publish.

If you think that editing is an endless round of fiddly grammar details, wait till you're stuck trying to figure out why the formatting for your e-book is off on three devices but looks great everywhere else. Getting covers right requires attention to the art design, graphic file formats, scale and resolution for different platforms, and a host of conventions like including your ISBN as a barcode on the back cover and listing the book’s category. Then there are details like copyright statements, warranties, and metadata that all have to be both correct and correctly presented. Making sure all of these things right requires constant checking and double checking.

Setting aside whatever frustration with the old or fascination with the new that you may have, there are good reasons for the traditional division between producers and distributors in many areas of the economy. You need to understand both the reasons for and the substance of each role if you want to walk the path of the artisan publisher because you’re signing up for both jobs.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Avoided Moments

Years ago I heard Richard Peck say, “You learn the most from the experience you would have avoided if you could.” In the same keynote address I also heard him say, “You are only as good as your opening line”. Although the second quote is one of my favorite, that will have to be a discussion for another post.

Think about the experience you would have avoided if you could. We all have things in our lives that fit this description. What emotion is connected to that experience? What would you have done to avoid it if we had known it was coming? Who would you be now, if that experience had not existed in your life?

Your character needs an experience like that. They need to be faced with something so terrible or terrifying that they would have avoided it at all cost. Maybe they are trying to avoid it. Perhaps they know, and understand what is at stake.
How do we help our character find that experience? Is it something we have experienced in our own lives and know about? Not always. Maybe you are experiencing this situation for the first time through your character and are trying to understand the emotions connected to this experience.

I’ve been trying to create a character that is dominating and has an entire community under his thumb. He would have to be so controlling and scary that nobody dared cross him. The problem is, fortunately, I’ve never experienced such dominion. However, as I’ve struggled with this character, I realized that there are moments in my life when I was terrified of a situation or person. Especially as a child. I’ve examined those experiences and the emotions that go with them and tried to transfer them to this fictional character that plays such a critical role in my novel.
Transferring these emotions does not mean transferring the exact experience. But the emotions can help you to create this character and give him real traits. You will better know how the characters around him will react as you pull from these emotions and then interview your characters. All your characters. How are they feeling? What are they thinking? How will that cause them to react to the particular rough spot where you have led them?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Do you have what it takes to be an author?

I went to Lisa Mangum's presentation at the UVU Book Academy. She talked about FOUR things you need to shine as a newbie author:


Not what you expected, right? I'll expand.

Vision-Publishing is a business. Research your genre and the marketplace. Where do you see your book going and how is it going to get there? Do you have ideas for marketing your book? What is your platform?

Passion- Write every day. It makes you a better writer. Read. It makes you a better writer. Learn to self-edit and make every page better. You are a storyteller. Tell your story.

Flexibility- Publishing is a team effort. Trust your editor. Maintain balance in your life. Can you work creatively and market your book? Are you willing to publish digitally as well as traditionally? Can you live with a title or cover you don't love?

Endurance- Is your writing a hobby or career? Both are good choices. What are your goals? Can you write more than one book a yer? Can you meet your deadlines? Editors LOVE when writers meet their deadlines!

Patience + Persistence=Publication

Saturday, October 13, 2012


One of the writing sites I subscribe to had a recent article about plot. This topic was pertinent as I am planning out my next story. Yet, it is also relevant in putting the finishing touches on a piece I am revising.

A good book must have story. The author needs to take the reader by the hand and lead them to a new world, a new reality. The main character’s circumstance must be believable and the writing smooth. I want to open a book, delve in, and become so absorbed by the story that my own living room seems foreign a few hours later when I come out of the story.

Jane McBride Choate, in the Children’s Book Insider October newsletter, describes plot as a summation of cause and effect. Often this is referred to as sequence action & reaction. It is not merely a series of events. The events must be connected to each other, with each new incident building on the last. Each attempt the MC makes to solve his problem should change something vital for him or her. Choate says every part of the story should be an absolutely essential step along the way to the outcome. If a scene does not belong in your story it should be removed. If its removal can be done without altering the outcome of the story then it doesn’t belong in your story.

Choate advises the author to look at each event through the MC’s eyes. Continually ask, “how does this make the MC feel?” “how will he react to this?” “how will he act in the future because of this?” Ask these questions of each scene of the story. If no answer comes, the scene is either out of order or doesn’t belong. Cut the scenes that don’t advance the story.

In the classic story arc, the main character has an object of desire they pursue. In that pursuit, something gets in the way – the cause, altering the MC’s path – the effect. That, then, becomes the new cause, forcing a change. You can build your whole plot right there. Dorothy lands in Oz and inadvertently kills the witch of the east. This causes celebration of the Munchkins, which in turn causes the arrival of the wicked witch of the west to claim her sister’s powerful red slippers. Acton and reaction, the events connected and built upon the last.

Choate’s message applies to the new story I’m developing, but is important to the one I am revising. In it MC1’s agenda guides the scenes and the story and MC2 merely has to respond. MC1 reacts to that response, and so on. As a writer, I must ask myself if this action/reaction sequence plays out. When it does, fine. If a scene does not help advance the story, it is superfluous and must be deleted.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dialogue Tips: R.U.E.

by Scott Rhoades

In their excellent book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King refer to an acronym that they say editors frequently write in the margins of manuscripts while editing: R.U.E., Resist the Urge to Explain.

The need to explain writers often feel is a classic case of a "show, don't tell" violation. Explanations always tell, and are especially noticeable in dialogue. A typical case is a writer's desire to convey emotion in dialogue.

As Julie Daines explained in an earlier post, as soon as you name the emotion your character is feeling, you stop showing and tell. Telling an emotion removes the reader's opportunity to feel it along with the character.

In dialogue, writers often explain a character's feelings through adverbs. For example:

Bob walked into the room. Dave sat on the couch. He looked depressed.

"Come on," Bob said. You need to do something fun."

Dave looked at Bob. "I don't feel like doing anything today," he said listlessly.

Both he looked depressed and he said listlessly explain how Dave is feeling, but right now I want to concentrate on that he said listlessly. We often do this because we lack confidence in our ability to make the reader recognize what the character is feeling.

Fortunately, this is a relatively easy problem to fix. Scan your manuscript for adverbs and mark every one. Then, go back and look at each adverb and examine what it is doing. If the adverb explains something that can be shown in the context of the story (and it frequently will), strike it and, if necessary beef up the text.

Bob walked into the room. Dave slouched on the couch, his legs draped over the arm rest and his arms flopping off the side.

"Come on," Bob said. "We've got to get you out of this funk."

Dave didn't move or look up at his friend. "I don't feel like doing anything today."

We get it from the context of the passage. Dave has no energy. Verbs like flopped, draped, and slouched, and his inability to move or even look up, combined with Bob's desire to get Dave out of his funk, all show us Dave is listless. Dave's lack of energy and the reason why he is listless are probably clear from surrounding text. If he said listlessly is the only sense we give the reader of how Dave is feeling, we haven't done our job. That explanation will not help the reader get a sense of Dave's state of mind. You could tack it on to the end of Dave's statement, but then it is still telling, and is redundant because you've always shown that Dave is in a funk and lacks energy. Trust yourself and trust your reader to get that from the context. Resist the urge to drive home the point you're trying to make by explaining it.

But adverbs aren't the only R.U.E. problem that shows up in dialogue. We often throw in a verb to explain our intent.

"Junior! Don't play in the street," Lisa yelled.


"Shh. I think there's somebody in the house," Mike whispered.

Whether your character yells, shouts, whispers, enthuses, or does anything else where you're asking your verb to explain the way a line is said, you are telling something that you should show. If your dialogue is written well, the reader automatically knows how the line is said.

Good dialogue always shows. After all, when you present dialogue, you are showing the action of a conversation, usually to move the plot forward like you would with any other action. So why weaken it by throwing in phrases of exposition, of telling? Especially when it's not necessary and all you're doing is explaining something you've already shown.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Know the Rules before You Break Them

by Deren Hansen

In her manifesto for correct punctuation and grammar, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss said this about comma splices (i.e., independent clauses joined by a comma, creating a run-on sentence):

“… so many highly respected writers observe the splice comma that a rather unfair rule emerges on this one: only do it if you're famous.... Done knowingly by an established writer, the comma splice is effective, poetic, dashing. Done equally knowingly by people who are not published writers, it can look weak or presumptuous. Done ignorantly by ignorant people, it is awful.”

One of the rules we throw at would-be writers is that they mustn't be bound by convention--they shouldn't be afraid to break the rules. The problem with this well-intentioned advice is that it leads many writers to get ahead of themselves by trying to break, “the rules,” before they understand them.

There are countless examples of authors who make the same, “mistake,” and one is lauded while the other condemned. On the surface that seems grossly unfair. The distinction, however, is simply a matter of mastery: if you’ve shown your readers you know what you’re doing, they’ll try to understand your intent in breaking the rules; if you haven’t, they’ll take it as more evidence that you don’t know what you’re doing.

There are many areas of endeavor where you need to show you know the rules before you can be trusted to break them. While nowhere near as critical as a licensed profession like medicine, publishing is structurally similar because in both cases you’re asking people to trust that you can actually provide what you claim to provide.

In the days of the craft guilds an artisan began as an apprentice, graduated to a journeyman when he had mastered basic skills, and became a master—and independent businessman—only after producing a masterpiece to prove he had actually mastered all facets of his craft. We are well past the day when the only way to learn was by doing, and it is neither practical nor necessary to apprentice ourselves to established publishers in order to learn the business, but the prerequisites of skill and mastery still apply if you want to be an artisan publisher.

Fortunately many of the skills you need as an artisan publisher are the same ones you need to live and work in the modern world: you need to know how to use the technical tools of your trade, particularly computers and the Internet; you need to know how to organize your time and work effectively; and you need to master both editorial and marketing communication.

But beyond that, you need to understand the industry in which you will be participating. Artisan publishing is about breaking the rules—at least the ones that held true in commercial publishing for roughly the last 50 years. Both as a matter of personal integrity and in order to lay the foundation for credibility with your readers, you need to understand how the publishing industry worked and how it is changing. Only when you understand the strengths and weaknesses of all the modes of publication now available can you, as Peter admonished the early Christians, “give reason for your faith,” in artisan publishing.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Elements of Theatre

Aristotle’s six elements of theatre:

1. Thought/Theme: What the story really means. “The abstract issues and feelings that grow out of the dramatic action.”

2. Plot: The events of the story.

3. Characters: The people presented in the story that move it forward as they work to achieve their ends.

4. Language: The linguistic choices in the narration and dialogue that help define the theme and story.

5. Music: Yes, this refers to the literal music in musical theatre, but Aristotle also defined it as the rhythm and tone of the dialogue. Specific rhythms and voices in writing and certain language tones can establish tempo and patterns.

6. Spectacle: The elements of the story (its world, characters, etc.) that enthralls us.

     In my last post I discussed how we all prefer different focuses in our reading and writing. Pondering that subject brought up the six elements of theatre and how they serve similar purposes in plays. Like how some audiences attend ‘low-brow’ performances purely for the spectacle and plot and some prefer ‘high-brow’ plays that incorporate deeper themes and characters.

     Whether we recognize it or not, all writers use a different blend of these themes. I may write riveting plots with beautiful language that awes audiences with many spectacles of the plot and world but have fairly shallow characters--which works okay for my style because I use them purely as narrators of the world (there is argument the The Lord of the Rings is written this way). On another hand I may have a humble plot in a simple but relatable world and mainly focus on delving deep into the human experience through my characters and themes. I may also choose to have very little power in my plot and characters and charm my readers purely through the spectacle of the beautiful language and music of my narrative. The blends of these themes can go on and on.

     The question we all ask ourselves then, is what blend do we use? The first thing that comes to mind is to go through my writing and perfect each of these themes: create really deep thoughts, plots, and characters, perfect my language and music, fill the story with spectacles, etc. However--though I do believe it’s good to try to appeal to all audiences and weave all of these themes into our stories--I also think maxing them all out can be overwhelming to our readers and a healthy blend that better focuses the book can work out much better for us. It can be helpful to us to recognize what elements we prefer at the forefront and pay attention to how we incorporate all of these themes into our writing.