Saturday

The Novel Editors - New Boutique Novel Editing Service By Neff and Munier

Faculty of the New York Pitch Conference, Michael Neff and Paula Munier, have launched a boutique novel editing service. The service is "boutique" because Neff and Munier have no intention of turning TNE into a manuscript critique factory.

As it states on the TNE website:
Also, we do not portion out our services like dim sum, and neither are we a manuscript editing factory dependent on large volume to stay in business. We only take on a few clients each month so that dedicated and careful editorial work on your novel or nonfiction can be accomplished by not one, but two highly experienced editors (bios below) working in tandem.
Let's not fool ourselves. This is the way to do it. In truth, could there be a better approach? Pay peanuts and you get monkeys, as witnessed by the so-called professional reviewers of the manuscript editing industrial complex (whose credentials you almost never get to examine in advance or whose credentials are masked or difficult to verify online) who get paid $300 to $500 to "critique" 300+ page manuscripts; and surprise, the bulk of the critique will turn out to be proofing and line editing with only a small portion being "development notes" (much of which is questionable) plus a paragraph or so of false praise and personal flattery added for good measure. The management pockets $800 to $2000 per ms--the entire structure dependent on acquiring a score of manuscripts per week to keep the hunger in check.

Most writers come away feeling good and hopeful, few realizing they've basically been duped.

The Novel Editors, however, working in a very opposed dimension, utilize not one but two highly experienced editors to work on each manuscript, thereby enabling a more realistic and balanced approach to the complex task of novel editing:
In our case, two editors equals your single best chance to become published. We possess over thirty years experience working on the publishing side of the business as well as on the literary agent side. As a result, we are networked with many literary agents and publishers in New York, and on the west coast, but just as importantly we have a solid track record of working with authors to produce books published by major commercial publishers and/or signed by major agencies. 
If you review the bios of the boutique editors of TNE, Neff and Munier, you'll see they do have the solid track record noted above.

The choice is obvious, but yes, we're biased on this end!


Thursday

How Not To Get Blacklisted! OMG!


As someone who organizes readings and a large literary arts festival with workshops, author appearances, and exhibitors, over the last ten years I have developed a list of writers who I will not work with again. And rest assured, I’m not the only one who does this.

Why? Because they didn’t follow directions. It’s that simple. Who's on it? Writers who acted like the organizer/staff were their personal assistant/manager. 

Take note of the following ways to avoid this blacklist and be a true professional!

KNOW YOUR OWN SCHEDULE

Double booking is such a big no-no we can’t believe you’re not aware of this already yourself. Whatever you have to do to make sure you know the days you are already booked: DO IT. Back out of our event at the last minute because you “forgot” you already had a gig? You’re on the list.

SEND THE REQUIRED INFORMATION

It should be no surprise to you that we need your bio and right away—possibly a short one and a long one. We also need a high resolution digital photo of the appropriate size with good lighting, not a selfie taken in the bathroom with your cell phone or with the light behind you. We need ordering information for your book. Possibly your dietary restrictions or lunch/dinner order. Special seating or parking needs. Have that at the ready to send right away. Don’t have them? Get them together and email them to yourself now so you will.

Have a publicity team? Great! They are usually more organized than authors. But pick only ONE person for us to work with.

SEND THE REQUIRED INFORMATION AS REQUESTED

If we ask for your short bio, we mean about 100 words. Not half a page, a full page, or two pages. Put your current, key publications, awards, job in there and include your website so people can find out more. You should not send a link to your website or write back “it’s on my website which is in my signature block.” You will be asked again to send the bio and if you again don’t comply, you won’t have a bio listed. Same with the photo and book order info. If we give you the format in which we want these and you send a link to your book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your publisher’s website you will be asked again, etc. If you're a "famous writer" we will chase you for the info but you'll go on the list.

MEET THE DEADLINE

When we tell you the deadline by which we need the information we are not picking a random date. We have a deadline for ordering your book and/or getting it to the host so he/she can read it before your reading or interview. We are collecting information to layout and send to the printer for marketing materials: brochures, programs, postcards. For posting on the website and social media.

Decided at the last minute you want to change or send your picture now that it’s too late? Yeah, no. Not changing the program which is already at the printer and would incur fees.

PUBLICIZE!

Organizers count on participants publicizing the event they are part of, which helps extend the organization’s reach and hopefully means high attendance on the day/evening. Post our event on your website, your Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/wherever pages. Follow our social media pages and share info from them. Let people know about your part, but also share the info about other writers, exhibitors, etc. if it’s a larger event or festival.

DON’T EMAIL WITH 101 QUESTIONS

We are aware of our own schedule. We know when we want to release final details to authors, etc. Don't stalk us for weeks before asking where you’re parking, what building/room you’re in, or asking if your book has arrived yet. We will send out the logistics email when everything is finalized and in plenty of time.

Please don’t “check in.” If we wanted to check in we would have. Basic information is, by now, on the organization’s website: location, day, time, parking. Do your own homework until you hear from us. That’s what websites are for. If it’s a few days before and no email, check your spam folder, then call.

How a reading works or an interview or a Q&A is not rocket science. You shouldn’t need a minute by minute breakdown of what is expected.

BE ON TIME—NOT EARLY AND NOT LATE

On the day of the event, don’t show up two hours before your reading if you’re part of an event that runs for several hours, or a festival, wanting to check in or with questions. Check in at the appointed time—an hour before is best. Wait until the session before yours has started so it’s quieter and we can focus on you.

Don’t wander off to other sessions, to lunch, whatever, and not be there on time for the start of your event. Keep track of the time and return at least fifteen minutes before your part starts.


CHECK IN

Always check in! Otherwise, you are considered a “no show” and we are scrambling to figure out what to do without you, sending people to look for you, spending time calling/texting you when there are ten other things requiring our attention.

NO TEXTS/CALLS WITH QUESTIONS ON THE DAY

We simply do not have time to take your call. The ringer on our cell is mostly likely turned off. If you want to reach us because you’re going to be late due to traffic or a car breakdown, text us and give us your name and ETA. If there is a host for your session, text them as well. Don’t text us and ask us to tell them. We may not see them in time and guess what? We have ten other things requiring our attention. What? You don’t have their phone number? You know my response to that.

DON’T GO ROGUE

If we didn’t offer or ask about your tech needs then please don't email asking if you can show a short film the day before the event. Or even weeks before. Tech has already been decided. We’ve had the final walk-though. We would have to hire a tech person at the venue which is not in our budget. You also may not call the venue yourself and ask for them to do this for you. We have a contract with them and you are not part of it. Put whatever you want to show on your website and have people view it on their smartphones during or after the session.

STICK TO YOUR TIME LIMITS

We probably gave you a time limit for your reading or, if you’re a host of a reading/session at a festival for us, how long your session is. If you’re a writer, choose appropriate material and practice reading it to make sure you are just under your time. So if we said seven minutes that’s what you prepare. Not three minutes. Not nine minutes. Your running under/over screws up the schedule. Minutes add up.

If you’re a host, don’t run over. Manage/track your time. If the host of the session before you didn’t do that and their session ran into yours, let us know later (they will go on the list!), but that doesn’t mean you can do the same to the session’s host and authors after you.

STAY THE WHOLE TIME – PARTICIPATE!

Go to other sessions if you’re at a festival. Stay the whole evening if it’s a larger event/reading. Take pictures. Post on social media using the event hashtag and quote writers/speakers. Tag people. Share other people’s posts.

If you just do your part and leave you were not really a participant making a contribution to our event and community.

IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG, BE GRACIOUS

Organizers are juggling more than you know depending on the size of the event: partners and their expectations, venues, catering, audio/visual recording, marketing, publicity, security, tech, tables, chairs, signage, exhibitors, book orders, the schedule, volunteers, parking, transportation/hotel for visiting writers, walk-throughs, last minute changes.

We are horrified that your name was spelled wrong or the parking lot was closed or someone else took your vegan lunchbox. We didn’t do it on purpose and we can’t fix it now. Don’t call/text us asking for restaurant recommendations or the nearest parking lot. These are all accessible to you via your own phone.

BOTTOM LINE

We are doing our best to make everyone comfortable and happy while dealing with the banner falling off of the front of the building, microphones with dead batteries, a famous writer needing directions over the phone instead of using their GPS, volunteers who didn’t show up, the session room that’s locked so no one can get in, obvious questions from people who could answer them by simply opening and reading the program or checking the map.

There are plenty of people ready to criticize every aspect of an event with massive amounts of know-it-all disdain. People who have never organized anything in their life but who think they’d be geniuses at it.  Don’t be that person. You have no idea what was discussed, promised by venue/partners/caterers/etc., not allowed or not available, or didn’t work on the day.

Be a help, not a hindrance. How? Remember that the event is not about you (unless you’re the headliner, in which case, still be gracious, not a diva). Do your homework. Do your prep. Bring your own water and a granola bar, just in case. Leave early, map out additional parking, check in, tweet about how much fun you’re having, smile.

We are excited to have you at our event! We think you’re fantastic! But be responsible for yourself. If you can’t be, hire someone who will be able to handle your needs/details or risk not being invited back and word getting around that you are not a professional or too much work.

Your call.


Chris Stewart is Editor-in-Chief of Del Sol Press (@DelSolPressBks), which has a First Novel Competition deadline this Friday, May 13th. Judge is Madison Smartt Bell.  Prize is $1500, 20 copies. Second and third place winners receive free tuition to the AlgonkianNew York Pitch Conference. Published already but retained the copyright? You’re eligible! Check it out:Del Sol Press First Novel Prize

Chris tweets @EditorStewart and provides manuscript editing and critiques. Find tips, tools, information, and inspiration on her website: The Real Writer

Tuesday

Del Sol Press First Novel Competition to Award Second and Third Place Winners With a New York Pitch Conference

New York Pitch and Algonkian
Success Stories
Del Sol Press, in cooperation with Algonkian Writer Conferences, will award the second and third place winners of their first novel competition with a trip to the New York Pitch Conference where they can pitch their manuscripts to professional editors.

The New York Pitch Conference is held four times a year and features publishing house editors from major houses such as Penguin, Random House, St. Martins, Harper Collins, Tor and Del Rey, Kensington Books and many more who are looking for new novels in a variety of genres, as well as narrative non-fiction. The event focuses on the art of the novel pitch as the best method not only for communicating the work, but for having the novel taken seriously by industry professionals.
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"The New York Pitch Conference is everything it claims to be and more... Because the conference participants are screened, editors know they are not wasting their time. Each editor I pitched listened carefully, giving suggestions and asking questions that improved my pitch... Whether or not my manuscript had been requested, I would have learned if my novel had commercial appeal and how to best pitch it. Leaving the conference, I felt confident that my novel did have potential and that I could effectively query an agent or editor.

My novel was requested by four of the five editors I pitched. Tessa Woodward at Harper Collins quickly made an offer for it, and Paula Munier, who had read my first page at the conference, represented me to negotiate a contract.

I spent five years researching and writing my novel before I went to the Pitch Conference. For the past year, I had been querying agents and submitting to small presses. One agent requested it then didn't even bother to email back to reject it. Two other small presses rejected it and all other agents and presses didn't even reply. I owned a copy of Writer's Market, I had written what I thought was a good pitch, I researched each agent and press so I could tailor my query. Still, nothing was happening.

Attending the Algonkian Pitch Conference was an investment in my career as a writer. For me, it paid off beyond my wildest dreams. No matter what, though, it would have been worth it for what I learned."


- Kim Van Alkemade, signed by Harper Collins

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Del Sol Press seeks to publish exceptional work by both new and recognized writers. Emphasis is on original, unique, and accessible work with an edge. They are only interested in the very best work, regardless of source or type. 

St. Augustine Author-Mentor Novel Workshop

How Does The St. Augustine Author-Mentor Workshop Differ from Other Writer Events?

In several fundamental ways, as we note above, but we will elaborate. First of all, and most importantly, the St. Augustine AMW creates a way for the aspiring author to get close and relaxed with published authors and business professionals in a manner that larger events disallow. Sufficient private face time with the right people is priceless.

Second, attendees are taught (even before the workshop begins by means of pre-event assignments and mailings) to address all the major conflict/complication, plot, theme, narrative/voice, dialogue, scene construction, and character arc-and-development issues that affect their novel.

Third, writers are prepped in advance for their interactive sessions with authors, editors and literary agents, and the sessions are not rushed. The professionals are relaxed during the sessions and not bombarded by hundreds of conference goers.

Fourth, the St. Augustine AMW requires the writer to complete exercises far more advanced and beneficial than those conducted by MFA programs or private writer events.

Fifth, amateur opinions do not arise to compromise the quality of the workshop. Judgments on a writer's work are approved, filtered, and/or provided by professionals in attendance. 
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The 2016 St. Augustine A-M takes place on February 26 - 29 (Thursday to Sunday) with arrival and a meet-up session on the evening of February 25th (Wednesday).


Friday

Algonkian Writers Conference Critique Criteria for Groups

by Michael Neff

Below are some categories and criteria for engaging in critique of novel-length fiction. This will help guide your writer's group and make the critique more focused and less arbitrary.



Premise and Plot
  • Does the premise or story concept sound high concept? Original? If so, why? Defend your conclusion. What makes it unique when compared to published novels or nonfiction in the genre? You must effectively argue this case for or against. If against, present examples why it might not be sufficiently original to capture the interest of an agent or publisher.
  • Are you able to discern the primary source of dramatic tension and complication that creates the major plot line(s)? Can you or the writer create a conflict statement for the novel that demonstrates, for example:

  • The Hand of Fatima

    A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.

    Summer's Sisters

    After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.

    The Bartimaeus Trilogy

    As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinni who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

Part II
  • Is the first major plot point that changes the course of action and begins the second act of this novel clearly defined? Can you state it? Keep in mind that the first major plot point begins the plot line noted above, i.e., the rising action of the story as a whole.
  • Insofar as you know, does the story as presented to you display the mandatory tropes of the genre? If so, how? Be inclusive with your response. Demonstrate knowledge of your genre and its tropes. Does the author do anything to present or frame the tropes in a unique manner?
  • Does the novel possess a setting and/or unique world that works to high-concept the novel, or at least make the story much more interesting and unique? If so, what features of this setting do you find unique or valuable to the story when compared to others? Do specific circumstances or characters evolve from the setting that make it valuable? If so, what or who are they?
  • What novel(s) published in the last few years does this story most closely compare to? Why? This must be supportable with specifics and not general statements. Does it compare favorably? Is it sufficiently unique despite the comparison? If so, why?
  • Why is this story, as presented, one that publishers will buy? To put it more simply, why is this story one that readers will pay to read? Respond to this with clarity and detail.


Narrative, Scenes and Style

How does the story read? Each one of the following bullet points must be addressed.
  • Is the prose itself completely free of errors and ambiguity? Does the writer say more with less or is she/he wordy? Are the verbs sufficiently active or too much variation of "to be"? Also, is the writer good at description? Not sure? Ask them to provide examples of description of objects, events and people.
  • Is the reader oriented spatially or do characters feel disembodied? If this narrative were film, would it make sense?
  • Is the narrative sufficiently engaging? If yes, what makes it engaging? If no, what should be done to make it engaging? Be specific.
  • Does the narrative include, as a whole, the three primary levels of conflict, i.e., internal, social, and plot related? If so, list them one at a time, and their context. If not, what should be done to include them?
 Part II
  • Are the scenes set properly? Do they have a defined beginning, middle and end? Do we get a clear concept of who/what/where, etc?
  • Does the prose itself evidence mastery of the form given the demands of the genre? If so, how? If not, why? What can be done to improve it?
  • Does the narrative present situations, issues, circumstances, characters or plots that seem too predictable or stale from overuse? Or would you term the narrative more unpredictable and original, insofar as possible given the demands of the genre? 
  • If more than one point of view, does the writer juggle the multiple POVs with skill? If so, how? If not, why not? Ask for more narrative samples as necessary.

Characters

The main thing here is to focus on the manner in which the characters reveal themselves in the course of the narrative, via dialogue and action.
  • Do they feel real or simply two dimensional?
  • Do we observe them at their best or worst in the course of performing an action?
  • Is the author using show-don't-tell techniques to portray them or simply delivering exposition?
  • Do you feel any sympathy or empathy towards them?
  • Is there anything unique about them or do they feel overly stereotypical?

Monday

Samples of Algonkian Pre-Event Assignments

From The Algonkian Study Guide
PLOTTING AND STORY DEVICES

For our purposes here, we define the novel as a long and interesting story that must make sense, no room for artifice or clunkiness, only phenomenal yet natural flow. During the course of pathing plot and story, the crafty author employs a variety of devices to smooth the flow, deliver necessary information, create a pause in the action, and more. Having knowledge of these methods in advance allows the author to storyboard with more creative flexibility, to push forward past problems that would otherwise confound and frustrate the inexperienced writer.

No Verisimilitude Without "Masking" : Foreshadow, Aftermath, Discussion, and Repercussion Application

Certain events must take place to move the novel forward, and often the author must use skillful storytelling technique to produce verisimilitude, i.e., to make the occurrence of the event seem natural rather than too convenient or contrived. "Masking" refers to the sum of this technique, the cumulative effect rendering a necessary yet potentially awkward event believable. Proper utilization of this indispensable technique allows the author more freedom to explore the introduction of unusual and/or surprising events and/or endings.

In Nabokov's Lolita, the wife of Humbert conveniently dies so that Humbert can proceed with his plans to seclude himself with Lolita:

First, the event is foreshadowed - Humbert receives a phone call from a neighbor stating that something has happened to his wife. Next, (beginning a new chapter) Humbert goes outside and witnesses the aftermath carnage of the accident - the scene is complex with objects and nearly surreal in portrayal. The police show him the body, he observes the details of it, etc. All of this lends credibility to the event. A few pages later, as a repercussion of the event occurs: a discussion ensues with a man who arrives to hash over accident details with Humbert—the question of the event's verisimilitude is settled.
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Sample of Assignments Emailed to Workshop Attendees

For this event you must purchase and read, or re-read "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey and "The Great Gatsby" by Fitzgerald. Both make important and fundamental points concerning plot structure, theme, dramatic complication, scene construction, narrative composition, and more. Both are utilized in the Algonkian Study Guide, along with other important works. We cannot overstress the importance of this.

For your first assignment, go to your nearest library or book superstore. Read the first ten pages of at least five new literary novels (no genre, i.e, SF, mystery, etc.). Once you've spent a few hours, take out a laptop, or sheet of paper, and note bullet by bullet precisely what the author did within those first ten pages to make the protagonist appear sympathetic, original and interesting. Also, note how the information was delivered in "the hook" of the novel. Was the author telling us, or showing us the character's qualities in a vivid scene?

For your second assignment, examine the book jacket of each novel. Write the book jacket you would like to see for your novel (see your pitch model assignment upcoming). Ask yourself after you write it: WILL THIS MAKE SOMEONE WANT TO BUY MY BOOK? And if so, why? Note: limit the number of words to the average number you count on the jackets. Try to limit to 150-200 words.

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Please use the following examples as models for your agent pitch session. Keep your pitch to 150-200 words, no more than a minute. Have the pitch written before the conference begins. Note that the pitch is a diagnostic tool to determine the strong and weak points of your novel. If you do not have enough novel for a pitch, then no problem. Now is the time to start thinking about it!

Take special note of dramatic tension and plot points, rising action, character qualities.


"The English Teacher" by Lily King:

(HOOK - the entire first paragraph) Fifteen years ago Vida Avery arrived alone and pregnant at elite Fayer Academy. She has since become a fixture and one of the best English teachers Fayer has ever had. By living on campus, on an island off the New England coast, Vida has cocooned herself and her son, Peter, from the outside world and from an inside secret. (SCENE SET) For years she has lived largely through the books she teaches, but when she accepts the impulsive marriage proposal of ardent widower Tom Belou, the prescribed life Vida has constructed is swiftly dismantled. (PLOT POINT creates COMPLICATIONS or DRAMATIC TENSION)

Peter, however, welcomes the changes. Excited to move off campus, eager to have siblings at last, Peter anticipates a regular life with a "normal" family. But the Belou children are still grieving, and the memory of their recently dead mother exerts a powerful hold on the house. As Vida begins teaching her signature book, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a nineteenth-century tale of an ostracized woman and social injustice, its themes begin to echo eerily in her own life and Peter sees that the mother he perceived as indomitable is collapsing and it is up to him to help. (SECOND PLOT POINT creates MAJOR COMPLICATION and RISING ACTION leading to CLIFFHANGER: will Peter save his mother?)


Another example from "Close Case" by Alafair Burke:

Investigating the brutal murder of a hotshot journalist, Samantha Kincaid finds herself caught in the middle of an increasingly personal and potentially dangerous struggle between Portland's police and the DA's office.(HOOK, SCENE SET, SUBPLOT COMPLICATION).

 
For Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid's thirty-second birthday, she gets an unusual gift: a homicide call out. (PLOT POINT begins MAJOR COMPLICATION: solve the crime) The crime scene: the elite Hillside neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. The victim: hotshot investigative reporter Percy Crenshaw, who has been bludgeoned to death in his carport.

Tensions in the city have been running high. The previous week, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed mother of two in what he claims was self-defense; in the aftermath, protestors have waged increasingly agitated anti-police protests. Crenshaw's death, it seems, is not unrelated: within a matter of hours, police arrest two young men who appear to have embarked on a crime spree in the aftermath of the protests. The case looks straightforward, especially when one of the suspects confesses. But then the man recants, claiming coercive police tactics, and Samantha finds herself digging for more evidence. (PLOT POINT, RISING ACTION, MORE SUB-COMPLICATIONS)

Following Crenshaw's steps, her search leads her through an elaborate maze of connections between the city's drug trade and officers in the bureau's north precinct. Samantha's pursuit of the truth puts her in the middle of city political battles and on the outs with the cops, including her new live-in boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes. Worse yet, the path left by Crenshaw could lead Samantha to the same fatal end.(CLIFFHANGER: will Samantha save her own life, solve the murder in the process, and later, recover her love interest? THREE QUESTIONS BEGGED!)
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Now, go and write the PITCH for your novel. And please, take your time!

Once done, put it aside for two days, then read it and ask yourself this question:

WILL THIS MAKE SOMEONE WANT TO BUY MY BOOK?
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Saturday

Monterey Writers Retreat in 2015

A Retreat for Fiction Writers, Authors, and Memoirists 

November, 2015

The Mission of The Monterey Writers Retreat in California


Writers, poets, authors and aspiring authors have journeyed for over a century to this most scenic and literary location on the California west coast known as the Monterey Peninsula. They come in search of inspiration, individuality, purpose and vision, but more importantly, they all eventually come to share an understanding that art has preceded their arrival in the form of a brutally beautiful sea and windswept white shore, in the poetry of the twisted cypress, and in the kaleidoscope of abundant wild life. It is this setting that inspired the poet Robinson Jeffers to pen:

Fresh as the air, salt as the foam, play birds in the bright wind, fly falcons
Forgetting the oak and the pinewood, come gulls
From the Carmel sands and the sands at the river-mouth, from
Lobos and out of the limitless
Power of the mass of the sea ...


Steinbeck found the material for his dozen volumes of California fiction in the Salinas and neighboring valleys, along the shores of Monterey Bay, in the Corral de Tierra, and on the Big Sur. Even the Monterey sunsets illuminate the secrets of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" which served as a stage for the lives and times on which Jack London and George Sterling composed their allegories. Don Blanding, Henry Miller, Mary Austin, Ambrose Bierce, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Nora May French and countless others have nurtured their creative intellect here for years on end, all of them fondly recalling their Monterey days in the years to come.

In keeping with their spirit, and the spirit of the place, you can be as goal-focused at the retreat, or as hesitant in approach as you wish. You can talk novel, memoir, or short story publication with us, show us your manuscript, improve your skills, clear your head, have your work read by our onsite writer mentors, whatever you wish, whatever helps you grow and find your vision as a writer. You tell us ahead of time via the Monterey Writers Retreat Application about the goals you wish to focus on and we'll work with you to make it happen. Do you wish a review of your memoir, short stories, or flash fiction? Do you need to discuss the reality of the market, your plot and characters, your prose narrative, or perhaps get feedback on the opening hook and sample chapters from your novel? Or would you simply like a relaxed and productive dialogue about your goals as an aspiring author?
 

Twelve hours of one-on-one morning sessions will take place each day of the retreat for five days. In other words, the on-site writer professionals Michael Neff, Paula Munier, and Andrea Hurst will meet with each writer, based on each writer's needs.

More information can be found on the Monterey Writers Retreat home page

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Tuesday

Director and Founder Michael Neff Interviewed by Authornomics

Sample from the Authornomics Interview. More can be found here.

What do you usually look for in a pitch? What’s one of the biggest turn-offs for you in a pitch?

A pitch that is imprecise, muddled, or way too long, or some combo thereof, creates a condition of frustration for all concerned—unless and until a way can be found to correct it. For many, this actually involves a rewrite of the novel. The pitch is simply a method of artfully communicating what your novel or nonfiction is about. If you can’t communicate a project that will sell, it usually means you have not written a project that will sell. At this juncture, we use the pitch as a means of driving further into the story. The intent is to discover what is working, what is not, and what, if anything, is missing. Plot, premise, characters, theme, everything is out on the table. Many of our writers have completely rewritten their novels as a result of the pitch process, and several have been published because of it. A good example is Kim Boykin, the author of The Wisdom of Hair.

What does your position as an associate for AEI Film Productions involve? How did you first get into this area?
 
I moonlight as an agent and developmental editor for AEI and StoryMerchant. I’m now the AEI Associate for the SF Bay Area. The owner, Ken Atchity, became acquainted with Algonkian and attended some of our events. Recently I have helped develop, edited and agented, or co-agented, two important books: Rise of the American Corporate Security State—Six Reasons to Be Afraid, a nonfiction by Beatrice Edwards (Berett-Koehler), and Killer on the Wall, a “social media cozy” by Wendy Eckell (Thomas Dunne). Several more novels are on the way, including another high-concept cozy mystery and an adult fantasy novel with series potential. Also, several Algonkian books have been ushered into contracts with AEI/SM, most recently The Last Scribe by Rachel Walsh, currently in development.

On the film side, we are working to produce Firehouse Shih-tzu, a comic film about a hero “firehouse dog” out to stop a dangerous arsonist in Brooklyn. I co-wrote the script. The sequel, Up Shih-tzu Creek Without a Poodle, is being written. It’s amazing what inventiveness can erupt from three bottles of Napa Cabernet.  Additionally, we are also working to produce Message to Shigatse, a controversial humanist film from NextPix productions about the Chinese kidnapping of the Panchen Lama. The hunt for a lead actress is underway. We have feelers out to Kate Winslett’s camp at the moment. Fingers X’d!

What are some of the biggest challenges you find in transforming books into films? Can a film ever be as good as a book?

High-concept genre books are generally easy to convert to the three-act film structure. They hit the same plot points and notes. But we all know that the film medium is limited to what it can display or provoke. Novels are not. The great novel will always outweigh the film because it can contain so much more, go more places, reveal more things. That’s not to say a good movie can’t be better than the novel upon which it was based. There are always exceptions. I’ve heard competing opinions re SIDEWAYS, for example.

[ More ]

Saturday

Wendy Eckel's KILLER ON THE WALL to Thomas Dunne Books

Author Wendy Eckel, a veteran of Algonkian Writer Conferences, joined Author Salon in October, 2011, and worked closely with AS editors, including advisory editors Michael Neff, Penny Warner, and Ken Atchity, to hone her "social media cozy" novel, KILLER ON THE WALL, into a competitive manuscript that was signed by AEI FILMS AND BOOKS in Los Angeles in 2012, and sold to Thomas Dunne Books in 2013.

FROM PUBLISHER'S MARKETPLACE - NOVEMBER 22, 2013:

Wendy Eckel's KILLER ON THE WALL, in which a woman sets out to solve a murder, and with the help of a Facebook group composed of amateur sleuths known as "The What Ifs," she begins the search for evidence and clues; after friending suspects on Facebook and working with a nervous programmer living in mortal fear of Mark Zuckerberg, she hacks into the dead girl's Facebook account and assumes her identity, only to discover a dark underbelly to what had originally seemed a charmed and effortless life, and THE DAY LILY CAFE, to Anne Brewer at Thomas Dunne Books, in a nice deal, for publication in 2015, by Ken Atchity and Michael Neff at Story Merchant (World Rights).


After two months on Facebook, I had yet to post a picture or write what was on my mind. My profile didn’t declare my relationship status or where I lived because those things had recently changed, rather abruptly, but inspiration finally struck on a crisp cool day in October. I found a dead girl floating in the marsh behind my house.

- from KILLER ON THE WALL by Wendy Eckel
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Tuesday

Algonkian Writers Conference - The Pitch Model Letter


Please use the following examples as models for your agent pitch session.  Keep your pitch to 150-200 words, no more than a minute.  Have the pitch written before the conference begins.  Note that the pitch is a diagnostic tool to determine the strong and weak points of your novel.  If you do not have enough novel for a pitch, then no problem.  Now is the time to start thinking about it!

Take special note of dramatic tension and plot points, rising action, character qualities.

An example as follows, from "The English Teacher" by Lily King:

(HOOK - the entire first paragraph) Fifteen years ago Vida Avery arrived alone and pregnant at elite Fayer Academy. She has since become a fixture and one of the best English teachers Fayer has ever had. By living on campus, on an island off the New England coast, Vida has cocooned herself and her son, Peter, from the outside world and from an inside secret. (SCENE SET) For years she has lived largely through the books she teaches, but when she accepts the impulsive marriage proposal of ardent widower Tom Belou, the prescribed life Vida has constructed is swiftly dismantled. (PLOT POINT creates COMPLICATIONS or DRAMATIC TENSION)

Peter, however, welcomes the changes. Excited to move off campus, eager to have siblings at last, Peter anticipates a regular life with a "normal" family. But the Belou children are still grieving, and the memory of their recently dead mother exerts a powerful hold on the house. As Vida begins teaching her signature book, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a nineteenth-century tale of an ostracized woman and social injustice, its themes begin to echo eerily in her own life and Peter sees that the mother he perceived as indomitable is collapsing and it is up to him to help. (SECOND PLOT POINT creates MAJOR COMPLICATION and RISING ACTION leading to CLIFFHANGER: will
Peter save his mother?)

Another example from "Close Case" by Alafair Burke:

Investigating the brutal murder of a hotshot journalist, Samantha Kincaid finds herself caught in the middle of an increasingly personal and potentially dangerous struggle between Portland's police and the DA's office.(HOOK, SCENE SET, SUBPLOT COMPLICATION).

For Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid's thirty-second birthday, she gets an unusual gift: a homicide call out. (PLOT POINT begins MAJOR COMPLICATION: solve the crime) The crime scene: the elite Hillside neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. The victim: hotshot investigative reporter Percy Crenshaw, who has been bludgeoned to death in his carport.

Tensions in the city have been running high. The previous week, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed mother of two in what he claims was self-defense; in the aftermath, protestors have waged increasingly agitated anti-police protests. Crenshaw's death, it seems, is not unrelated: within a matter of hours, police arrest two young men who appear to have embarked on a crime spree in the aftermath of the protests. The case looks straightforward, especially when one of the suspects confesses. But then the man recants, claiming coercive police tactics, and Samantha finds herself digging for more evidence. (PLOT POINT, RISING ACTION, MORE SUB-COMPLICATIONS)

Following Crenshaw's steps, her search leads her through an elaborate maze of connections between the city's drug trade and officers in the bureau's north precinct. Samantha's pursuit of the truth puts her in the middle of city political battles and on the outs with the cops, including her new live-in boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes. Worse yet, the path left by Crenshaw could lead Samantha to the same fatal end.(CLIFFHANGER: will Samantha save her own life, solve the murder in the process, and later, recover her love interest? THREE QUESTIONS BEGGED!)
_____

Now, go and write the PITCH for your novel. And please, take your time!

Once done, put it aside for two days, then read it and ask yourself this question:

WILL THIS MAKE SOMEONE WANT TO BUY MY BOOK?

Take into account all the major elements above. Follow the step-by-step evolution of HOOK/SCENE SET, PLOT POINT/COMPLICATION(s), RISING ACTION, and CLIFFHANGER.

Wednesday

Author Salon Novel Writing Program Review

A Talk With Julie Chapman About Her Writing Life

TITLE:  GRID RIDER
GENRE:  YA/SF
COMPS:  Rick Yancey's THE 5TH WAVE
WORDS:  75,000+

Julie Chapman has held professional positions as a journalist and editor, but fiction is her passion. She received a bachelor's degree in English with a creative writing concentration from Skidmore College, where she was a student of Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser. She intends to see GRID RIDER published as a trilogy.



I don't like to be scared. And I think in a good sci-fi novel, the reader should experience fear. In previous drafts, I really skirted around my antagonist because I didn't want to be uncomfortable myself. Author Salon's second assignment snapped me out of that. When I was sketching my antagonist, I didn't sleep for a month! I'm still afraid of my antagonist, which I think is a good sign, but I'm no longer afraid of writing about him. Instead, I'm excited.

- Julie Chapman

Author Salon Novel Writing Program Review

AS: Tell us something about yourself as it relates to your writing life. Also, what inspired you to begin the novel?

Throughout my house, very organized piles of notes are inevitably graffitied with words like "dog" and "cup" as well as a multitude of illustrations. It seems my three-year-old daughter is determined to help me write my book. Whenever I see her scribbles, I'm reminded not to take myself so seriously and to go bold with my imagination. I love being in that childlike state of creativity wherein even the craziest ideas make sense. Those ideas are usually the best.

GRID RIDER began as a short story. When my visa expired and I had to leave my life in London, I figured a way to retain my residence would be to set a story there. From previous experience, I knew that dropping a girl from the Southern swamplands into that setting would be hilarious. And I'd always wanted to write about some colorful dreams I had when younger. Somehow and thankfully, a story emerged.

AS: Who are you reading now? Which authors and novels have been an inspiration to you, and why?

My favorite recent read is Rick Yancey's THE 5TH WAVE, about a teenage girl dealing with the aftermath of an alien invasion. Although the book is sci-fi, the story is less about aliens and more about humanity's response to catastrophe and the struggle for survival. Universal themes like these are what make the story relatable and inspire crossover appeal. This is what I intend for Grid Rider.

The book I read that convinced me I could write one myself was THE MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Another inspiration was Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series. I gravitate toward books with strong female characters and gripping plot lines, and I am enthralled with characters who travel between worlds.

AS: Can you tell us about your novel?

GRID RIDER is set on the edge of the Everglades in a strange town called The Moods, where sixteen-year-old Eden Thrash is even stranger. All her life Eden has been plagued by visions of spectral shapes, but has no idea what they are or why she sees them. Everyone thinks Eden is crazy. Even she begins to believe it, until inexplicable events begin to happen worldwide. Cities begin to sink, airplanes crash, power outages grow in frequency as the Aurora Borealis appears over Florida. Meanwhile, Eden's visions intensify. When a huge red circle shows up and engulfs Eden, she is thrust into a world known as The Grid, a strange subspace-like environment created by an ancient race of benevolent beings -- a kind of transit station where thousands of worlds throughout the galactic rim interweave, fuse and collide. The Grid is under attack by a predatory alien race, and the chaos on Earth is a symptom of it, a repercussion. Eden soon learns that her visions are clues to saving The Grid, and that she has become a target for the invaders.

AS: What gives you a passion for this story and why are you the one who needs to tell it?

When I was younger, I dreamed about shapes. Sometimes they made patterns; sometimes they appeared up close. As a result, friends called me "Kaleidoscope Eyes." The dreams were so vivid and stayed in my mind long after I awoke. During that time, I remember feeling as if I were living in two different worlds simultaneously -- one seen, one unseen -- which was difficult. Since then, I've been fascinated with characters who are able to exist between worlds. My protagonist, Eden, is one of them.

Even though the dreams provided an escape, they were obviously weird and made me feel different. Then in my adolescence, I wanted to enjoy my dreams and feel accepted at the same time. That's why I love that Eden's visions -- which make people fear and hate her -- ultimately help save the world.

AS: What have you found to be your biggest challenges to writing a successful commercial novel?

I don't like to be scared, but I believe that in a good sci-fi novel, the reader should experience fear. In previous drafts, I really skirted around my antagonist because I didn't wish to be uncomfortable myself. Author Salon's second assignment snapped me out of that. After I sketched my antagonist, I didn't sleep for a month! I'm still afraid of my antagonist, which I think is a good sign, but I'm no longer afraid of writing about him. Instead, I'm excited.

AS: Is there any particular facet of the Author Salon novel writing program that has helped you more than any other? If so, why?

Every assignment in the Author Salon program has proved to be invaluable for me. I was surprised that the antagonist sketch should be done before the protagonist sketch, but I soon understood the brilliance behind this approach. Sketching my antagonist in such detail prompted me to restructure my entire novel. As a ripple effect, I developed a rich new backstory that increased the stakes, made the tone creepier, intensified both inner and external conflict, and energized the plot. I restructured every one of the six acts with the new found knowledge that the antagonist should drive the plot from the beginning of the story. And when the time came to sketch my protagonist, I knew that creating a truly dynamic, captivating antagonist had challenged me to design a protagonist worthy of the opposition.

AS: What bit of advice can you give to other aspiring authors just getting started?

Patience, persistence and positive outlook. That's my mantra.





• Home   |   • 16 Module Program   |   • Syllabus   |   • Registration   |   • Contact

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Thursday

Write to Market Conference Redux

The Write to Market Conference returns in 2013. A new feature of the Write to Market is a series of pre-event assignments posted on Algonkian forums.  These assignments are designed to cajole writers into considering a few of the most important elements of their aborning novel even before they arrive at the conference.

As follows:

MS/Novel Premise-Platform-Execution Check Pre-Event Writer Assignments on The Writer's Block

THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT

Before you begin to consider or rewrite your story premise, you must develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist (hero/ine)? Their goal? What must be done? What must she or he create? Destroy? Save? Accomplish? Defeated?Defy the dictator of the city and bury brother's body (ANTIGONE)? Place a bet that will shake up the asylum (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST)? Do whatever it takes to recover lost love (THE GREAT GATSBY)? Save the farm and live to tell the story (COLD MOUNTAIN)? Find the wizard and a way home to Kansas (WIZARD OF OZ)? Note that all of these are books with strong antagonists who drive or catalyze the plot line going forward. More on that later.

If you cannot conceive or write a simple story statement like those above (which will help define your story premise) then you do not yet have a work of commercial fiction. Keep in mind that the PLOT LINE is an elaboration of the statement, of this "primary complication" of story statement. Also, look over the brief summaries of these novels in Author Connect Deal News (http://authorconnect.authorsalon.com/index.php/topic/2287-latest-deal-news-sf-general-thrillermystery-romance/). These contain the simple statement, but more elaborated into a short hook.

FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.

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THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

Since the antagonist in most successful commercial fiction is the driver of the plot line(s), what chances do you as a writer have of getting your manuscript, regardless of genre, commercially published if the story and narrative therein fail to meet reader demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict?

Such a dearth of vitality in narrative and story frequently results from the unwillingness of the writer to create a suitable antagonist who stirs and spices the plot hash. And let's make it clear what we're talking about. By "antagonist" we specifically refer to an actual fictional character, an embodiment of certain traits and motivations who plays a significant role in catalyzing and energizing plot line(s), or at bare minimum, in assisting to evolve the protagonist's character arc (and by default the story itself) by igniting complication(s) the protagonist, and possibly other characters, must face and solve (or fail to solve).

CONTINUE READING ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.authorsalon.com/page/general/AntagonistsInLiterature/

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

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CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

What is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully. A poor title sends the clear message that what comes after will also be of poor quality.

Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours.Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc.

Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING.

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

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DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES

Did you know that a high percentage of new novel writers don't fully understand their genre, much less comprehend comparables?

When informing professionals about the nuances of your novel, whether by query letter or oral pitch, you must know your genre first, and provide smart comparables second. In other words, you need to transcend just a simple statement of genre (literary, mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, etc.) by identifying and relating your novel more specifically to each publisher's or agent's area of expertise, and you accomplish this by wisely comparing your novel to contemporary published novels they will most likely recognize and appreciate--and it usually doesn't take more than two good comps to make your point.Agents and publishing house editors always want to know the comps.

There is more than one reason for this. First, it helps them understand your readership, and thus how to position your work for the market. Secondly, it demonstrates up front that you are a professional who understands your contemporary market, not just the classics. Very important! And finally, it serves as a tool to enable them to pitch your novel to the decision-makers in the business.Most likely you will need to research your comps. We've included some great starter websites for this purpose below. If you're not sure how to begin, go to Amazon.Com, type in the title of a novel you believe very similar to yours, choose it, then scroll down the page to see Amazon's list of "Readers Also Bought This" and begin your search that way.

Keep in mind that before you begin, you should know enough about your own novel to make the comparison in the first place!By the way, beware of using comparables by overly popular and classic authors. If you compare your work to classic authors like H.G. Wells and Gabriel Marquez in the same breath you will risk being declared insane. If you compare your work to huge contemporary authors like Nick Hornby or Jodi Picoult or Nora Ephron or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, and so forth, you will not be laughed at, but you will also not be taken seriously since thousands of others compare their work to the same writers. Best to use two rising stars in your genre. If you can't do this, use only one classic or popular author and combine with a rising star. Choose carefully!

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT:

- Read Caitlin's Comparables on Author Salon: http://www.authorsalon.com/craft/view/62/ - Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

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CONSIDERING THE PRIMARY CONFLICT - COMING OF THE "AGON"

Conflict, tension, complication, drama--all basically related, and all going a long way to keeping the reader's eyes fixated on your story. These days, serving up a big manuscript of quiet is a sure path to damnation. You need tension on the page (esp in fiction), at all times, and the best way to accomplish this is to create (or find them in your nonfiction story) conflict and complications in the plot and narrative.

Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve.

And now, onto the PRIMARY CONFLICT.

If you've taken care to consider your story description and your hook line, you should be able to identify your main conflict(s). Let's look at some basic information regarding the history of conflict in storytelling:

Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of conflict, involves the protagonist (the "first fighter") and the antagonist (a more recent term), corresponding to the hero and villain. The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling. Is that always true these days? Not always, but let's move on.

Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her.

The above defines classic drama that creates conflict with real stakes. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY. And of course, you need to have conflict or complications in nonfiction also, in some form, or you have a story that is too quiet.

For examples let's return to the story descriptions and create some CONFLICT LINES. Note these come close to being genuine hook lines, but that conflict is present regardless of genre.

The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.

Summer's Sisters by Judy Blume After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinni who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own conflict line following the format above. Keep in mind it helps energize an entire plot line and the antagonist(s) must be noted or inferred.

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OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve. You must note the inner personal conflicts elsewhere in this profile, but make certain to note any important interpersonal conflicts within this particular category."

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?

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THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

When considering your novel, whether taking place in a contemporary urban world or on a distant magical planet in Andromeda, you must first sketch the best overall setting and sub-settings for your story. Consider: the more unique and intriguing (or quirky) your setting, the more easily you're able to create energetic scenes, narrative, and overall story.

A great setting maximizes opportunities for interesting characters, circumstances, and complications, and therefore makes your writing life so much easier.

Imagination is truly your best friend when it comes to writing competitive fiction, and nothing provides a stronger foundation than a great setting. One of the best selling contemporary novels, THE HUNGER GAMES, is driven by the circumstances of the setting, and the characters are a product of that unique environment, the plot also.

But even if you're not writing SF/F, the choice of setting is just as important, perhaps even more so. If you must place your upmarket story in a sleepy little town in Maine winter, then choose a setting within that town that maximizes opportunities for verve and conflict, for example, a bed and breakfast stocked to the ceiling with odd characters who combine to create comical, suspenseful, dangerous or difficult complications or subplot reversals that the bewildered and sympathetic protagonist must endure and resolve while he or she is perhaps engaged in a bigger plot line: restarting an old love affair, reuniting with a family member, starting a new business, etc. And don't forget that non-gratuitous sex goes a long way, especially for American readers.

CONTINUE TO READ THIS ARTICLE THEN RETURN: http://www.authorsalon.com/craft/view/97/

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

Monday

Michael Neff of Algonkian Writer Conferences Contributes to Author Salon

A STUDY IN THIRD PERSON POV
      Lessons and Readings Necessary To The Creation of a Competitive Commercial Manuscript

   By Michael Neff of Algonkian Writer Conferences - Contributing Editor to Author Salon

Let's get right to the point on this issue. Yes, we know that CATCHER IN THE RYE and HUCKLEBERRY FINN could never have been the famous novels they were without the engaging first person voice of their protagonists. And yes, first person seems to be in vogue with paranormal YA and some fantasy here and there, however, third person point of view is the best way to relate a dynamic work of fiction, hands down. Unless the first person voice is so remarkable, unique and/or compelling that the novel could not exist without it, third person is strongly advised.

For purposes of this study, we define four levels of third person point of view (3POV) as follows:

  • Author-POV
  • 3POV Distant
  • 3POV Close
  • 3POV First-Close
The Author-POV or APOV, refers to the author, the detached or "omniscient narrator" who steps in now and then to set the scene or make artful commentary at the right time (just *please* don't address the reader directly because that is so irritating and breaks the reader's immersion into the fictional dream).  3POV Distant or 3POV-D occurs at such time the narrative focuses on a specific character and we watch her or his actions as if we are the camera actively filming this character. 3POV Close or 3POV-C takes us into the character's head and camera viewpoint shifts to the character, i.e., we see or experience, for the most part, only what the character is viewing or experiencing. 3POV First-Close or 3POV-FC dives deeper into the character's head and effectively mimics first person POV, but naturally without the usual limits of first person POV because the author can cut from the 3POV-FC and pull all the way back to APOV.
Let's look at three samples of what we're talking about from my novel-in-progress, co-authored with Kevin Reilly, entitled THE YARROW STICKS OF CATHAY.

APOV to 3POV-D to APOV

The following never quite makes it into 3POV-C, but verges on it. Note how the APOV returns at the conclusion:

(APOV) WHEN ONLY A CHILD OF NINE, ONE OF EARTH'S most powerful kings, Zolo Bold, did something which haunted him the rest of his life. He sniffed a bee up his nose.
    But no ordinary bee.
(3POV-D)    After a night of howling steppe winds and falling stars spilled from The Big Dipper, he saw a white flower, like one of those stars, stemming out the next morning from a vendor’s cart in Samarkand. While his mother strained to subdue him, Zolo nonetheless hopped and hummed with delight. Much to his surprise, he could smell the mind-softening scent of the blossom even from many feet away, competing bravely with the loud odors of the city market. In his mind, it seemed so radiant and mysterious that it overshadowed all the other flowers, even the enormous Silk Road orchids rumored by Christian monks to be death robbers, and the many and exotic blooms whose seeds came from Ulaanbaatar in faraway Mongolia. 
    When the flower merchant, a man with an ox-sized stomach, no nose, and the thinnest head Zolo had ever seen, turned to heckle a customer, Zolo Bold--whose name means Crazy Fox--saw his chance. He gently slipped from his mother’s hand and took a few steps, leaning forward to smell the rose. He could not help himself, for never before in his life been in the presence of such a sky born flower. But just as his nose brushed the soft white petals and the scent filled his head, something else did too: a sharp and crawly thing.
    It followed the air up his right nostril, and once lodged, began to squirm.
    Zolo shrieked and jumped into the air!
    His entire nose buzzed and the sound of it curled into his throat and out of his mouth. A nearby child, smaller than him and holding his mother’s hand, heard the bee voice and pointed, yelling “It’s bee boy! Bee boy!”
(APOV)  In the years to come, Zolo Bold, the great enemy of the dark feared from Istanbul to Cathay, would remember that boy’s terrified face and always attach to it all mention of the word "bee" ...

APOV to 3POV-FC to 3POV-C

Note how sometimes the lines between levels can be somewhat blurred, but once the reader accepts the reality of the 3POV narrative style, it all seamlessly blends:

(APOV) After what seemed like hours, the two of them drew near their tent.
(3POV-D) Zolo broke away from his mother and ran towards it as fast as he could. Once inside, Zolo dove onto his sleeping place, made of quilted blankets, and thrust his arm beneath them.  Groping around, he soon found the object he searched for: a tiny stone statue of an ancient warrior known to him only as Alexander.
    He gripped the figure tightly and whispered his own quick prayer for protection. Many years before, a wandering Kazakh traveler, late of Istanbul, had given it to him as a gift and told him that Alexander once possessed the good fortune and power to rule many nations at once, that he was beloved of all gods--
(3POV-C) and little Zolo imagined that a being of such power would make a formidable ally. He mumbled prayers to Alexander only on special occasions, not wishing to upset Allah, or his parents.(3POV-DBut at the moment, his mother paid no attention. She stared out the tent into the desert, her body unmoving, as if something she saw paralyzed her.
(3POV-C) to
(3POV-FC)    While his mother stood in the corner of his eye, facing away from him, Zolo held Alexander close and whispered a prayer in his head:
    God Alexander,
    Help my mother find my father.
    I implore you.
    Make my family whole again
    And I will make sacrifice
    To you for all my days.
   
(3POV-C)  Zolo held Alexander for a few more moments, staring at his soft profile and face and wondering how such a soft-looking god could rule so many nations. But he believed it to be true nonetheless. The wanderer from Istanbul had appeared like a man of wisdom and iron, and in his eyes, Zolo saw the truth.

[
NOTE: if the narrative had described the prayer rather than having us see the thoughts in Zolo's head, we would have stayed in (3POV-C) ]
3POV-D to 3POV-FC

Note the transition from 3POV-C to 3POV-FC. The narrative narrows down to the actual thoughts of the 3POV character, also using italicized lines which directly mimic first person interior monologue:

    (3POV-D)The old woman stared at Senna, her eyes fixing on her, never straying until she walked to within a few feet of the table. Her two escorts, still masked, let go of her and returned to the performance. The old woman's eyes dropped to the floor and Senna looked her over. (3POV-C) There was nothing special about her. Her face resembled a water-starved desert of lines and cracks, as one would expect. But suddenly, Senna heard someone nearby speak to her: Sing the body young.
    (3POV-FC)A voice? From the old woman? ... No.
    The voice belonged to a man, and it sounded a bit strangled ... Sing the body young. Again! Was it in her head? She looked around. Nothing. Only Hermine and Théodo acting witless as usual, and not even seeing this old woman. Why are they not paying attention? Do they not realize how odd this all is? 
    O poder é a vida ea morte, Princess Senna.
    She knew that language. Galician, yes. A rare language of Spain, heavily influenced by Roman empire. It translated to "The power is life and death."
    Her fingers pricked for a moment and she realized the source of the voice: Mirza Yesun Temur. It must be him!  
    Meu segredo está oculto.
    My secret is hidden. She strained her eyes for him. Zolo, Willie, or whoever was right. Tricks, illusions. And what did the words mean? And why? ... Sing the body young. The words intruding into her mind forced her to look at the old woman again. Now her eyes lifted and bored into Senna, and Senna's face began to burn and felt as if dozens of small fingers walked lightly over it. What in Beelzebub's name? The woman's eyes implored Senna to act, as if a terrible thing were about to happen. But what?

   
A Summary of Plus Points and Arguments for 3POVs
  • 3POV can be just as immediate and intimate as first person (see 3POV-FC example above), but without the usual constraints of being always boxed into what the first person narrator sees/experiences, sans their personality as a continuous filter. 3POV allows for multiple filters and tones, as well as first person intimacy with more than one character (multiple first person can achieve the same thing, but with more difficulty).
  • If you as the author need to deliver exposition or other critical information you will have more hoops to jump through if you are confined to the viewpoint of a first person narrator who may or may not logically be capable of delivering said information. While Jodi the first person narrator is talking to Mary, Bobby has just lit the fuse a mile away. How can Jodi tell us this?
  • Related to above, you can effectively describe events via the APOV and other 3POV characters even though your protagonist isn't present.
  • Allows a universal or authorial voice to more easily and quickly, under a wide variety of circumstances, to define reality for the reader. The reader suspends disbelief and accepts what the author narrator is telling them, whereas first person statements and observation run the risk, in certain situations, of sounding more like opinion.
  • Advantages of dramatic irony. The reader learns about upcoming circumstances that will adversely affect the protagonist before the protagonist realizes this fact. This creates suspense and heightens reader concern.
  • Allows for establishment of "epic perspective" (see the opening above with little Zolo).
  • Cinematic advantages. For example, in THE ALCHEMYST by Jonathan Stroud, we witness a scene of violence taking place in a book store. We see it through one characters viewpoint, in the store, as it plays out, then we switch to a second character outside the store, witnessing the effects of the violence from outside. Like a film, the author is able to cut back and forth and give far more dynamism to the depiction of the scene.
  • Another cinematic advantage is that the APOV can start the action sometimes more readily than the first person who may get mired in TELL TELL rather than SHOW SHOW.
  • Ability to jump into the heads of other characters enables author to quickly and efficiently switch settings and circumstances and thus add more variety and energy, as well bring a different tone and interpretation to the work as needed, e.g., consider the difference between the POV of a child and an elder experiencing the same circumstance.
  • It's easier to physically describe the 3POV view-point character(s) - the author can simply just say straight out how they appear, or even use the camera angle of another 3POV character to render the image.

Notes on Character Viewpoint

The nature of any given 3POV narrative is dependent to a large extent on the personality of the 3POV character engaged in filtering and interpreting the fictional environ. The 3POV narrator chooses to focus on things which interest her or him, comments on behavior she or he finds odd or objectionable, reveals fantasies, etc. Therefore, by placing a specific character with well defined traits at an event, or in the presence of something which must be described or experienced, you render that event or object in such a way as to reflect the character’s mindset, biases, emotion, beliefs and perceptions.

Thus, different characters employed as 3POV cameras or interpreters will yield different results when placed in the same circumstance. A superstitious individual might imagine a dark hand of God blotting the sun in anger, falling rain as tears; whereas the less superstitious, educated observer might focus on the sadness of a small child, her bright clothing soaked by rain, or the frantic motions of the staff attempting to clear food off the table before it is all spoiled by rainwater. The superstitious character might suffer more cognitive dysfunction, interpret smiles as wolfish or manipulative or death-like, the more educated character marveling at light and youthful appearance of the person smiling, the crinkles around the eyes, the cause of the light mood.

Characters by virtue of their personalities will therefore interpret the same phenomenon differently.

A must to keep in mind when juggling your 3POVS.


   - Michael Neff of Algonkian Writer Conferences