Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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Critique Groups: Prepare For Change
by Laura Drake We’ve been talking about critique groups here at Writers in the Storm lately. Jenny started us out with 10 Power Tips for Critique Groups, and Sharla followed up with her post on how to form a Critique Group. At crit group this week, we were talking about change; how it seems that everything goes along the same for a while, and then BAM! It all seems to change overnight.  Changes happen all the time in critique groups. Life intercedes, members move on, new members join, disagreements or personality conflicts may happen. People may become discouraged and stop writing, or move on to other passions.  Crit groups are constantly changing, in large and small ways. And that can be scary. After all, a crit group (providing it’s a good one) is our biggest support group as writers – they’re people who actually getwhat we do!  Members become close personal friends, and the group develops a history, with favorite stories, just like family. Changes can filter down, effecting or our ability to keep our writerly butts in the chair, and even the quality of the writing itself. I don’t know about you, but my writing looks very different (read: better) after traversing the crit group gauntlet. Even if you see the change as positive, the gulf between where you are and where you want to go can look like shark infested waters. Group dynamics come into play - you have to take other’s wants/needs into account as well as your own. When the health and viability of the group may depend on these decisions, how do you reach consensus? The group will morph and change – there’s no stopping it. But you can prepare yourself. Laurie Maddalena put together some strategies for developing resiliency in dealing with change.
  1. Step away, take a breath, and take some time to think realistically about the impact of the change and the strategy for moving forward. We often get caught up in the change itself and cannot think clearly enough to develop a strategy.
  2. Adjust your mindset from viewing change as a problem to an opportunity.
  3. Think about the different perspectives you could have around the change. What perspective do you choose to be in?
  4. Keep sight of the long term vision, not what the change causes short term. How will your perspective be different a year from now?
  5. Be open to learning. If we resist change, our energy is wrapped up in the effort to maintain the status quo. Think, "What can I learn from this?"
  6. Change often causes stress. Ask yourself, "What can I control in this situation? What can I do to influence this situation? What do I have to accept about the situation?"
  7. Focus on the present moment. Don't think about what has happened in the past or what could happen in the future.
  8. Trust yourself. Developing an inner equilibrium is essential for being resilient in the midst of change. Trust that everything will work out.
  9. Improve your ability to respond to change. Stretch yourself in little ways every day. How will you respond to the terrible traffic? How will you react to trying something new?
  10. Be open to self-change. In every experience with change, be open to learning and changing yourself. Ask yourself, "How can I grow from this change?
How about you? Has your experience with change in your crit group been good? Not so good? Please share what you’ve learned with us.

~ Laura

I wouldn’t be the ‘quote Queen’ if I didn’t leave you with a few gems:

Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine.  ~Robert C. Gallagher

If you're in a bad situation, don't worry it'll change.  If you're in a good situation, don't worry it'll change.  ~John A. Simone, Sr.

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse!  As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place.  ~Washington Irving

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.  ~John Kenneth Galbraith

The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.  ~Ellen Glasgow

Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations.  ~Faith Baldwin

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.  ~Author Unknown

We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.  ~John Steinbeck, America and Americans

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Blogging Guest - Sue Grimshaw: Acquiring Editor's Checklist
We're so honored to have Sue Grimshaw, editor at Random House's Romance at Random, back with us today. How often do you get to glimpse an editor's checklist? Wow! Here's Sue: Hello friends at Writers in the Storm! Thanks for having me back!  A few of the writers have asked me to give you some highlights on how my job has been going.  Can you believe a little over 7 mos has already gone by!  Well, maybe you can, but I still have to pinch myself. *grins* It was late March when I left Borders as Romance Buyer and accepted my position at BBD as Category Specialist & Editor At Large. Once on board, we immediately began working on our website & then launched Romance At Random in late June. Soon after, we re-launched the Loveswept line, August 8.  All along I have been acquiring books, as well as learning & developing new editing skills while brushing up on new computer languages by taking a few courses in HTML, CSS & Java Script (last two courses I’ll be attending over the next few months)! Woot –makes me tired just typing that! Busy?  Yes.  Enjoying it?  More than ever imagined.   Learning a lot?  More than you will ever know. One of the things I’ve found useful has been my editing checklist.  As I started reading thru the vast number of manuscripts I had been receiving I realized I needed to organize my thoughts.  I needed something that would help me determine if the book/MS actually had all the elements of a good story (and if not, could it?).  I’ve learned that I am a person that needs process & must write things down . . . .ie: Sue’s Editing Checklist. I’m not sure how helpful this will be for you but thought it would be fun to share and get your comments.  Bottom line, this is a basic checklist that I’ve been using to help me determine what books would work best for the Loveswept line.  I’m eager to hear your comments and hope we can develop a good discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts . . . Ok, ready? Sue’s Editing Checklist
  1. How does the story begin. Does it have a good hook?
  2. Is there a prologue & do we need it?  Read the story without it & see if it made a difference.
  3. 1st – 2nd – 3rdperson?  What sub-genre is it really?
  4. Is there a balanced mix of action, narrative summary, and dialogue?
  5. Does the action have a purpose? Is it moving the story forward? Is it believable?
  6. Is the story stuck in a rut? Sometimes writers get so interested in their characters that they start drifting off.
  7. Are the plot twists feasible? Believable?
  8. Do all of the subplots resolve by the end of the story?
  9. Is the dialogue necessary? Is it doing its job to advance the plot?
  10. Are the characters staying in character? True to their character arc?
  11. Does the protagonist have a clear arc?
  12. Is the story engaging the reader's senses? Does it use enough description so that readers get a sense of the setting and can visualize the characters?
  13. Show me don’t tell me . . . if you feel it while you’re writing it the reader will feel it while reading it .  .  . no negotiation on this one.
  14. Does each chapter or scene stay in a single point of view?
  15. This is the most important question of all: Is it any good? Will readers be interested in the story?
The questions are pretty straightforward, don’t you think?   I thought that a couple of them, however, might need a little explanation: #2 – There seems to be some confusion about prologues – consensus is that publishers don’t want them. Not so. Some books need them – just make sure yours does. Example:  Our debut author, Jessica Scott, BECAUSE OF YOU, (11/14/2011), did not have one.  As I read thru the story, I realized there was a back-story that needed to be briefly addressed to help the reader comfortably move into the story; that became our prologue and it is amazing how well that worked. In another debut we’ve purchased and edited, the author began with a prologue.  Together we agreed that it did not offer anything different than what the reader learns in the first chapter, so we eliminated it. #3 – Classic romance stories are best told in 3rd person at least that is what sells and what the reader prefers.  This is a general statement and guideline which has been overruled a few times already, but gives me a benchmark to work with. Right now I’m reading a 1st person romance and interestingly enough, this is a story that would easily appeal to YA reader by just adjusting the age range of the characters a tad (from 20’s to 17).  In fact, because of the 1st person view, it would probably better sell in the YA sub-genre too. #5 – Believable is HUGE!  Make sure your characters actions make sense, and are reasonable and understandable to the reader. #6 – Ruts . . . . you know what they are?  The story hooks you and carries you through chapter 4-ish. And then dies . . . for whatever reason.  Sometimes it is easily fixable – other times, there is just not enough time to begin. . . . #9 – Boy howdy!  Does there ever need to be a balance of dialogue and narrative!  I started a manuscript that was all dialogue and I had no idea what the story setting was, who the character’s were, what made them say the things they did . . . .I could not even continue with that story because I had no idea what it was about! #12 – Engage the readers senses, this is so important . . . if I can’t see it, hear it, feel it then I’ll start losing interest in the story and, more importantly, the reader will too.  Feel what you’re writing so the reader can feel it when they are reading.  Example: From the war-torn streets of Baghdad to the bittersweet comforts of the home front, two wounded hearts navigate the battlefield of coming home from war in this explosive eBook original from newcomer Jessica Scott.   Keeping his men alive is all that matters to Sergeant First Class Shane Garrison. But meeting Jen St. James the night before his latest deployment makes Shane wonder if there’s more to life than war. He leaves for Iraq remembering a single kiss with a woman he’ll never see again—until a near fatal attack lands him back at home and in her care.   Jen has survived her own brush with death and endured its scars. And yet there’s a fire in Shane that makes Jen forget all about her past. He may be her patient, but when this warrior looks her in the eyes, she feels—for the first time in a long time—like a woman. Shane is too proud to ask for help, but for Jen, caring for him is more than a duty—it’s a need. And as Jen guides Shane through the fires of healing, she finds something she never expected—her deepest desire. Just by reading this copy you see this is a book readers will feel deeply about – from the explosion in Baghdad to Shane’s love for Jen, this is a military romance that heightens your emotions to off-the-chart levels. Click here for more about this book.

ANNOUNCEMENT: One randomly chosen commenter on today's post will receive a sneak peek copy of BECAUSE OF YOU! 

Click here for more about our author, Jessica Scott. Look at some of the quotes we’ve already received:
  • “Jessica Scott is an exciting new voice in romantic fiction who bursts upon the scene with an unputdownable debut novel! ” New York Times Bestselling Author, Robyn Carr
  • “Edgy and current—and a truly satisfying love story. Put this book, Jessica Scott’s, BECAUSE OF YOU, on your “must read” list.” New York Times Bestselling Author, Suzanne Brockmann
  • “Crackling with realism, sizzling with sexual tension, and pulsing with emotion, Jessica Scott has penned an unforgettable military romance that delivers heartache and hope on every page.” New York Times Bestselling Author, Roxanne St. Claire
  • “Authentic, emotional, and edgy, Jessica Scott’s sweeping military romance is a vivid snapshot of love, war, grief and–above all–hope.” – Allison Brennan, NYT Bestselling Author of If I Should Die
  • “Watch out Navy SEALS, there’s a new hero in town and he’s wearing Army gray! Because of You is a beautifully crafted, wonderfully emotional debut.” New York Times Bestselling Author, JoAnn Ross
  •  BECAUSE OF YOU is a tough and tender romance that proves the one thing worth fighting for will always be true love. Jessica Scott is a vibrant new voice in contemporary romance!” New York Times Bestselling author, Teresa Medeiros
  •  BECAUSE OF YOU is powerful, timely and wonderfully executed. Jessica Scott should be on every reader’s list.” New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Brenda Novak
Thanks so much for having me here today -- I have a soft spot in my heart for WITS. You all have been so supportive of me and my ventures. I'd love to hear from you all! Happy Romance, Sue G
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Don’t Let Thrillers Hog The Freezer!
We're so excited to have with us today at WITS: Tiffany Lawson Inman -Naked Editor! She's not only Margie Lawson's pride and joy, she's an amazing editor who can help take your writing from good to great! Here's Tiffany: Why is it, we think only of a high intensity thriller when we hear the phrase, “Gripping page turner?” Is it the: Non-stop action, fast pace, a billion plot twists, high stakes, extreme emotions and exhilaration? The stereotype breakers are the ones that I like to read.  Lisa Unger, Tana French, Elliot Perlman, Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson.  While reading  each of these author's novels, I have been on the edge of my seat, literally. Why?  Was it because of a brawny uniformed man swooping in to save the day? The convenient mass market size and price?   Nope. I read books based on these three elements: 1. Writing craft 2. Character development 3. Plot Well, gosh…ALL three of those elements are at the top of my list for reading other genres too.  Hmmmmm…. Precisely.  What am I saying? Strive to make EVERY novel a Thriller. Not with hype and a million plot twists, but with quality writing.  Just because you are writing Women’s Lit or a Western Romance, doesn’t mean you scrimp on the high intensity.  It means add it in, in an alternative way. Learn how to tell your story.  Find out what works and what doesn’t. That’s what those pesky NYT best sellers are doing.  They’ve learned how to ramp up the character's emotional detail rather than the gory detail of a thriller. NYT best sellers have learned how to show action when it’s simply a scene in a kitchen or coffee shop.  You say your Romance novel isn’t about life or death? Phooey!  It is.  The stakes can be just as high as life or death because your character's spirit will die if she doesn’t have her happy ending. Right? I don’t care what genre you are writing, I want you to be at the top of your game.  One genre is not above another in terms of writing craft…or it shouldn’t be.  From writers that pump out a book every three months for Harlequin to writers that have been working on the same novel for years and make it to Oprah, if you are striving to be published in ANY capacity, I expect excellence on that page. Not because I am an editor, but, because I am a reader. You don’t want your readers passing on your book because they have read the first chapter on their Kindle and they aren’t impressed.  You don’t want your readers struggling to finish your novel and in turn, never buying another of your books.  You do want your reader to be dazzled and emotionally attached to your characters, plot, and sucked in by writing craft.  How are you going to do this?  By following in the footsteps of the THRILLER. Dig in to a quality thriller and take note of how they:
  1. show emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
  2. show active description
  3. show active dramatic moments within the dialogue
  4. show character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
Here’s a strange question for you: What does The Shining have in common with Little Women?   They are both good enough novels to go in the freezer.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a Friends reference.  Season 3, episode 13,  where Joey is so grippingly scared by what is happening in The Shining, that he puts it in the freezer when he’s not reading it.  To somehow stop or “freeze” the events happening in the book, so he can breathe.   Episode summary: Rachel gives Joey her well worn copy of Little Women to read; a book he didn’t think could match the gripping ability of his much loved page turner, The Shining. The last scene of the episode shows a distraught Joey, so emotionally caught up in the character’s lives, that he is then forced to put Little Women in the freezer too.  This is what I want to read, every time I crack open a novel, thriller or non-thriller. So, writers.  Is your novel “freezer-worthy?” Let’s do a quick 'n easy Naked Editor Dramatic Dissection on a snippet from the first chapter of: Darkness, My Old Friend by Lisa Unger.   “I’m Eloise Montgomery.” It took a moment. Then he felt the heat rise to his cheeks, a tension creep into his shoulders. Pop- visceral reactions as his response. Christ, he thought. “What can I do for you, Ms. Montgomery?” Showing us his thought and then the line – immediately gives us an invisible tone to his voice, without saying, “ he said, with an irritated tone.” She looked nervously around, and Jones followed her eyes, to the falling leaves, the clear blue sky.  What a fabulous way to show setting and a little of what this lady is all about.  Why would she be looking at these things, unless she didn’t want to look at him directly? Unger is a master of active description. “Is there someplace we can talk?” Her drifting gaze landed on the house.  Interesting – she is showing a lot with the way this woman is approaching the situation. She doesn’t want to look at him, she doesn’t want to intrude on his home, and yet there is a look to the house, as if to will him to invite her in, without her asking. Lots of stuff going on here between, under, and above the actual words.  Can’t we talk here?” He crossed his arms around his middle and squared his stance. Maggie would be appalled by his rudeness. But he didn’t care. There was no way he was inviting this woman into his home. A strong reaction and an internalization – both very informative about his character.  And this raises a lot of questions in my reader brain – why is he behaving like this.  What has this woman done to him? A lot of emotion here for a man who didn’t remember who she was at first. “This is private,” she said. “And I’m cold.” She started walking toward the house, stopped at the bottom of the three steps that led up to the painted gray porch, and turned around to look at him. She still has not verbally invited herself in – but her actions say something else entirely.  Her dialogue is short and unapologetic, which raises MORE questions about who and what this woman is to the man in the scene. He didn’t like the look of her so near the house, any more than he did those doves.  On the previous page he mentions having to upend the home of some doves that had taken residence in the light inside his garage. They didn’t belong in his use either.  Birds make messes.  This is a fabulous tie in to something he doesn’t have to describe again for us – we know he is thinking she is invading his space and is likely to make a mess. Very nice technique. She was small-boned and skittish, but with a curious mettle. As she climbed the steps without invitation and stood at the door, Nice slice of character description here. Love her word choice. he thought about how, with enough time and patience, a blade of grass could push its way through concrete. Perfect use of active and emotion infused analogy. He expected her to pull open the screen and walk inside, but she waited. And he followed reluctantly, dropping his gardening gloves beside the rake. The next thing he knew, she was sitting at the dining-room table and he was brewing coffee. Simple compression of time here.  Very smooth, no speed bumps for me.   My assignment for you: Dig through your manuscript and make sure you are:
  1. showing emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
  2. showing active description
  3. showing active dramatic moments within the dialogue
  4. showing character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
Go forth and write! P.s. I’m on page 267 of Lisa Unger’s book now and, yes, I want to put it in the freezer.   I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours! The Lovely Bones and The Secret Life Of Bees are two of my freezer dwellers... My body can't handle those high impact emotions all at once.  It's the curse of Theatre School and the ability to live through the minds of characters. Which books on your shelves, have you running for the freezer?  Have you learned anything from them? Do tell!    Tiffany Lawson Inman is a freelance fiction editor. Find more about her at www.nakededitor.net   Updates on where she’s been guest blogging, where she’s going to be next, and other writing/editing tips at Naked Editor Blog: http://bit.ly/NakedEditorFictionWritingBlog   Want to learn from Naked Editor? Tiffany teaches online at Lawson Writer’s Academy.  Check out the course she has coming up in January– you don’t want to miss it! http://bit.ly/LawsonWritersAcademyCourses Comment today and you could win her lecture packet: Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene. An Actor’s Take On Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action --- based on the current class she is teaching.   **Don’t worry, if you wanted to take the Triple Threat course and learn in the one-on-one atmosphere with Tiffany, this course will be back in the spring!
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