Blogger Backgrounds

Monday, September 29, 2008

Episodic writing

One of the Steeple Hill editors forwarded this link to an article on Episodic Writing that is simply fabulous:

Plotting Problems - Episodic Writing

Friday, September 26, 2008

Synopsis worksheet endorsements

I recently put together a Synopsis Worksheet that will guide you through the process of writing a synopsis.

The best part is that you don't need a full completed manuscript to use the worksheet--just a general idea of your characters and storyline.

The worksheet is available as a .pdf file download for only $5.

In case you were wavering about whether to buy it or not, here are a few endorsements from happy clients who used the worksheet in my recent Synopsis writing class:

Camy Tang has a unique gift for guiding you through the process of putting together a synopsis. Her great insight helps you wrap up the main ideas step by step. I love the way she ensures you have a strong spiritual or internal arc in your synopsis. I can’t say enough good about her Synopsis Worksheet. You can’t go wrong with it.

Debbie Lynne Costello

Camy's Synopsis Worksheet was just the tool I needed! I dreaded writing my most recent synopsis— summarizing a 95,000 word novel into a few short pages? Aah! But Camy's worksheet gave me a good format to follow, and now I have a synopsis that actually makes sense! If you're thinking about getting Camy's Synopsis Worksheet, stop thinking. Just get it.

Marcie Gribbin

I was in the process of writing a synopsis for my manuscript when Camy announced she was teaching a workshop using her Synopsis Worksheet. Each assignment taught me how to revise and rewrite my two page synopsis. I now cringe with embarrassment when I read the wordy three pages I almost sent to a publisher. Thank you, Camy.

Jean Kinsey

Story Sensei's Synopsis Writing Worksheet swept away any intimidation I had about writing a synopsis. The worksheet went far and beyond the inexpensive cost, providing excellent jumpstarters and a valuable writing resource. I'm looking forward to future worksheets.

Tyora Moody

Camy's synopsis worksheet is easy and fun to follow. It made me think about where my book is headed and how to best translate that on paper. Camy uses examples from her own book, which is an incredible help. Her worksheet showed me how to construct an efficient and interesting synopsis without getting bogged down in unnecessary details.

Jessica Nelson

Dear Camy, I wanted to let you know what a blessing your synopsis worksheet has been. I loved writing my story, even enjoyed the rewrites as I saw it improve, but I hated writing the synopsis. I read everything I could about the subject, but nothing really helped until I did your worksheet step by step. What a relief! It should be called Help for the Synopsis Impaired! I've used it for both of my books now.

I've recommended it to my critique group and will continue to do so for others.

Thank you so much,

Teri Smith

I would recommend Camy's Synopsis Worksheet to anyone preparing to submit to an editor or agent, or to anyone trying to pitch at a conference. I was unsure about whether I needed the worksheet or not, but for such a great price, I decided to sign up. What a brilliant decision! As a direct result of Camy's easy to follow writing exercises in the worksheet, and implementing the lessons therein, I received three requests for my manuscript at the 2008 ACFW Annual Conference.

I wholeheartedly recommend Camy's Synopsis Worksheet.

Denice Stewart

Even as a multi-published author, I struggle with writing a clear, concise synopsis. I recently used Camy Tang's Synopsis Worksheet and found it to be the most helpful resource for synopsis writing. I highly recommend this worksheet for authors at any stage of the game, whether aspiring or multi-published.

Cheryl Wyatt

Monday, September 22, 2008

When should you hire a freelance editor? Part six

Click here for part five

If your answers to the previous questions were “yes,” then it’s time to hire a freelance editor.

If you’ve gotten feedback, entered contests, studied the craft of writing, finished a book, and done your market research, you have most likely moved from a beginning writer to an intermediate or advanced one.

At that point, a freelance editor can use her experience to figure out how to push you to the next level of writing craft.

You might have submitted your manuscript to a few agents or editors and gotten some rejections. Sometimes the rejections are form letters, sometimes they’re a little more personal (although it’s still a “no, thank you,” which can be frustrating).

Often, your manuscript will get many rejections and while your critique partners are sympathetic, no one can pinpoint why your manuscript keeps getting rejected.

Maybe you’re finalling and winning various writing contests (consistently finalling and winning), but you’re still getting rejections from agents/editors. The rejections might be more personal, but they’re not giving you the kind of feedback you want to make the story publishable.

This is a good indication that you need a more experienced eye than your critique partners.

Many times, freelance editors have a better eye for pinpointing things that your critique partners don’t see. For example, one of the reasons I started my Story Sensei critique service is because experienced authors noticed that I had a good eye for seeing large-scale structural problems in manuscripts.

There aren’t many editors who can do that, and they suggested I market my ability by offering that service to other writers (this is what I do when I do in a Synopsis critique—I look at your story’s overall structure and character arcs, and I can see if there are structural flaws which might be why an editor rejects the manuscript).

Not all freelance editors are the same. You want to try a freelance editor first to see if you like his/her editing style. I tend to be very cut and dry (not a lot of pink fuzzies and cheerleading), while another editor might be more encouraging. Or you might simply prefer an editor’s way of explaining things because your communication styles mesh.

Most editors will allow you to hire them for a short section of your manuscript. For example, I will do the first 3,000 words of your manuscript for only $40 in my Screening critique. Meredith Efken also has a Screening Critique of 5,000 words for $55.

Spending a little bit of money to “test” a freelance editor is often a good idea if you don’t know much about the editor or if you’ll like their style of editing.

However, be aware that some freelance editors do not offer this “test” critique and will only take full manuscripts. Do your research before contacting a freelance editor.

Be aware that hiring a freelance editor does NOT guarantee publication. No one can do that. But getting a professional critique will often move you to a higher tier in your publishing journey and help you on your way to publication.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blogging for promotion

I blogged at Seekerville yesterday on Blogging for promotion, even if you're not yet published.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How to write a query letter

I blogged at LaShaunda's blog yesterday on the five main parts of a query letter and give an example of one:

How to write a query letter

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Story Crucible

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

The Factor That Keeps the Character in Trouble

Every story needs a firm reason the character can’t just walk away from the story trouble. This is called the story crucible.

If a character is able to walk away from the story problem at any time, readers will feel dissatisfied with the story premise. The character needs a solid reason why he struggles on and doesn’t just take the option of giving up.

The Crucible Has to be Something Vital at Stake.

The character cannot continue with his external goal simply because he’s too stubborn to give it up. There has to be more at stake for him.

Someone’s life has to be in danger, whether figuratively or in actuality. It could be the character’s life or it could be someone the character cares for. There’s something vital on the line that can’t be ignored or sacrificed.

For example:

In the movie and series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy is the Slayer, the chosen girl who has powers to fight the forces of evil. She can’t just walk away from her responsibilities because then eventually, the entire human race would become run over by vampires and it would be all her fault.

Her crucible is the protection of the entire human race.

Another example:

Bob is trying to get a certain promotion at work.

What’s his crucible? Why does he need this promotion? If it’s simply for ambition, that’s not good enough. He needs a more vital reason for pursuing this promotion.

Say he needs the money because his wife is undergoing chemotherapy. The crucible is his wife’s life.

Or perhaps the new job title will finally confirm to him that he’s as good as—or even better than—his critical father. He believes it will validate him and give him the self-esteem he’s always been lacking. (While this might be a false assumption, the key fact is that Bob believes it to be true.) The crucible is Bob’s identity.

Or perhaps he has already arranged with the company’s competitors to get the new job title—and the new security clearance—so that he can steal information and sell it to the competitors for a huge wad of cash. He intends to disappear to Jamaica and live in style for the rest of his life. The crucible is his new life.

The Crucible Keeps the Character Entrenched For the Entire Novel.

If circumstances change in the middle of the story and suddenly the character has the option of walking away, that’s not a good crucible.

As the story progresses, the problems should get worse and worse. The character should be boxed in, tighter and tighter. The crucible should be getting stronger, up until the climax.

Here’s an example:

In Isle of Shadowsby T.L. Higley, the heroine is a courtesan-slave who longs for her freedom. When her master is accidentally killed, she needs to keep his death a secret for a week until he is scheduled to leave Rhoades with her. This is her crucible.

However, a rival starts stirring up political trouble, which requires her master to make appearances at the public council.

Then the council wonders if her master is too ill to take the scheduled trip, and if someone else should be sent in his stead.

Then a council member discovers that her master is dead, and he wants to use her and the secret for his own ends.

Each event draws the net tighter around the heroine, boxing her in, making things more difficult. The crucible has become not just her freedom, but also her life as she faces a charge of murder.

Find a Strong Crucible.

In writing your own novel, make sure your character’s crucible is a strong net that keeps the character struggling on.

Friday, September 12, 2008

When should you hire a freelance editor? Part five

Click here for part four

Do you read extensively in the market you’re targeting?

For example, if you’re targeting Christian fiction, do you read a lot of Christian fiction? If you’re targeting mass market romance, do you read a lot of mass market romances? If you’re targeting fantasy, do you read a lot of fantasy?

If the answer is no, you are definitely not ready to hire a freelance editor.

You may not realize it, but freelance editors can really tell when you haven’t read extensively in the market you’re targeting.

Whether it’s a particular genre or a particular publishing house you’re targeting, if you haven’t done your research by reading those books, it’s obvious in your writing.

For example, I have read manuscripts targeting, say, a Harlequin category romance line, who don’t have the hero and heroine meeting in the first chapter. If the writers read those romance books, they’d know a requirement of the line is for the hero and heroine to meet in the first chapter.

I have also read manuscripts targeting mainstream fiction, but the stories read like an academic paper. If the writer actually read current mainstream fiction (not fiction from ten or twenty years ago), they’d pick up the patterns of how modern novelists craft a story, how a novel is structured, how a novel is paced.

They’d see that modern fiction has a deeper point of view than older fiction, that modern fiction relies heavily on dialogue and conflict, that modern fiction creates an experience for the reader that a writer should strive to emulate in their own store.

Reading books in the genre or line of your target market can be as valuable as reading writing craft books, going to classes and workshops, or going to conferences. Writers pick up subtle things about writing that sometimes cannot be articulated, but which are there and real. And those things make your writing stronger.

Click here for part six

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When should you hire a freelance editor? Part four

Click here for part three

Have you finished your novel?

If the answer is no, then I’d suggest you finish it first before considering hiring a freelance editor.

Why? Because there is something that happens in a writer when they complete a manuscript.

Finishing a book requires perseverance and dedication. A writer is tested in these things when she writes a novel, and she can only know if she has those qualities when she types, “The End.” This perseverance and dedication is what separates “real writers” from “wannabe writers.”

There are also things a writer learns about the writing craft in finishing a novel—the “sagging middle” syndrome, what a rushed ending looks like, the intricacies of tying up all the story threads. A writer who hasn’t experienced these things is still only a beginning writer, and you want to strive to be an intermediate writer before you hire a freelance editor. That way, the critique will be more effective.

Getting your entire novel critiqued by your critique partners is also a valuable learning experience. You will receive feedback on a larger scale—the story’s pacing, the character’s arcs, how those arcs resolved, how the climax built up (or didn’t), if the ending was satisfying and why or why not.

Those are things you cannot learn when your critique partners critique the same chapters over and over because you spend too much time polishing and not enough time just finishing the darn book.

An editor or agent will only consider an unpublished novelist if the novel is finished. It is very rare that an unfinished novel is contracted by a publishing house. Therefore, make sure you have that finished novel before you invest significant funds to have it edited by a freelance editor.

Click here for part five

Monday, September 08, 2008

Character external goals

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

Why Characters Need Super-Objectives for Their Story Arcs

External goals are the backbone of your character’s story arc, and they give the reader something active to follow.

But what exactly are external goals, and why are they so important?

What is an external goal?

This has been called by different things: Super-Objectives, Character Purpose, Character Direction, or simply Goal.

They all mean the same thing—your character has an overarching objective/goal/purpose for the book that he is trying to achieve.

An external goal has a definite ending—a point at which the character knows when he has either succeeded or failed. It can’t be a vague desire or hope. It has to be a concrete, solid, physical something the character is striving for.

In Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors, Brandilyn Collins states the character’s Super-Objective in terms of action. A character’s external goal should be some form of action.

Why your character needs an external goal

An external goal gives the reader a reason to cheer your character on, a reason to follow him in the story to see if he gets his goal or not.

External goals bring action and desire into the character’s story arc. A character who simply reacts to the things that happen to him is not as interesting a figure in fiction as a character who is proactive.

Achieving his external goal

The character doesn’t necessarily have to achieve his external goal.

Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer (chapter seven) gives a good exposition on achieving or not achieving goals and why both are good.

It’s not so much the goal that’s important as it is the character discovering his deeper needs and meeting them—perhaps with his external goal, but perhaps by failing to achieve his goal and discovering fulfillment in some other way.

An example of an external goal and character arc

Terry wants financial success. But “financial success” is a rather vague external goal. A good external goal should be something more concrete, something Terry can hold in his hands.

So instead of having “financial success” be his external goal, you have Terry strive for something physical that embodies his desire for financial success.

Say “financial success” for Terry means that he owns a house in the prestigious new Springdale development on the outskirts of town. Only the highest class of people are moving there. Houses are being sold like hotcakes, and there are only a few left.

Terry’s external goal is for him to own a house in Springdale. He has a ticking clock—there are only a few houses left—and the physical aspect of “financial success” for him means holding the papers for his new home.

Does Terry achieve his external goal? That’s up to the writer and the theme of the story. Maybe the story is about persevering to achieve your dreams—showing Terry overcoming insurmountable odds to get that house. Or maybe the story is about finding fulfillment not in wealth but in love—and Terry sacrifices his chance to buy the house in order to buy a smaller house to win the woman he loves.

Either way, the external goal at the start of the story is owning that house. Terry’s story arc takes it from there, and achieving the goal or not is intertwined in Terry’s personal issues.

Look at your own character’s external goal.

Is it concrete or vague? Does it have a definite ending? Is it something the character pursues throughout the story, to either succeed or fail in the climax?

A strong external goal is like the spine of a skeleton—it forms the backbone of your story. Without it, a story will seem vague and aimless. With it, your reader won’t be able to stop reading.

When should you hire a freelance editor? Part three

Read part two here

Have you read any writing books, gone to any workshops, taken any classes (whether in person or online)?

If the answer is no, then you are not ready to hire a freelance editor.

The reason is similar to my answer in part one. Writing craft books, workshops, and classes can take you from a beginning writer to a strong intermediate one.

You don’t want to waste your good money in hiring a freelance editor who will point out the basic writing mistakes in your manuscript when you could buy a $15 book and learn that for yourself.

What book do you start with? I have a nice list of Books on Writing and a few suggestions in my article, “I want to write a novel and I have no clue what to do!”

If you have a hard time learning from books, go to a class. A writer’s conference can be expensive, but the workshops there are usually worth the investment.

Auditory learners have lots of options--in addition to conference workshops/classes, there are MP3 classes you can listen to. Randy Ingermanson and Donna Fleisher both have audio MP3s that you can buy relatively cheaply that will teach you the basics.

Most writing conferences will also have the workshops available on MP3 to buy after the conference is over. RWA and ACFW both have all their workshops available as MP3s.

There are great online classes you can take through a writing organization. RWA and its chapters often have online classes, and ACFW offers free online classes to members every month.

If you take the time to learn the basics of writing, then when you do hire a freelance editor, she can focus on deeper issues to help you polish your manuscript and bump it up to that next level.

More next time.

Friday, September 05, 2008

When should you hire a freelance editor? Part two

Camy here: I didn't even realize my Story Sensei blog wasn't publishing these articles the past month! I thought I'd scheduled them to post, but I had saved them as drafts instead. So here they are--better late than never!

Read part one here.

Have you submitted your work to contests?

If the answer is no, then I would suggest you hold off on hiring a freelance editor.

Like critique groups/partners, contests can give you honest (sometimes brutally honest) feedback on your writing to make it stronger.

Now be warned, contests are often a crapshoot because you never know if you’re going to get a really good judge or a really bad one. However, for beginning writers, contests can be invaluable because there’s a greater probability that you’ll get judges who are further along the writing journey than you are, and who can give you useful feedback.

Granted, sometimes you get that crabby judge who says all kinds of wrong and mean things. But weigh even those judged entries carefully, because you never know what you can glean from it.

For example, my most useful contest judge was my absolute meanest judge. She didn’t “get” chick lit at all and made all kinds of false assumptions and wrong comments because she didn’t understand my story or the style of writing.

However, I took her comments and tweaked my manuscript so that someone like her—a romance reader—would understand my story. It made my chick lit more marketable to the larger romance reader demographic, and I think that helped it to sell to Zondervan.

Contests can be an investment, but relatively speaking, it’s cheaper and a better deal than a freelance editor. You get several critiques from at least two people (sometimes more than that) for only $15-$30. In hiring a freelance editor, you pay more than that for only one person’s feedback. It’s a good return for your money.

One last word: In choosing contests, be aware of what the scoresheet looks like and how many judges you’ll get. Choose your contests wisely because the entry fees can add up.

Click here for part three

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Zondervan and Mount Hermon Writer's Conference Sponsor Competition for Aspiring Fiction Authors

Winner Receives $10,000 Publishing Contract

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Sept. 3 /Christian Newswire/ -- Unpublished Christian fiction writers, get your manuscripts ready. Zondervan, a world leader in Christian communications, today announced All About the Story, a writing competition for first-time novelists. The winner will receive a $10,000 publishing contract with Zondervan, and all finalists will have their works recognized during the Christian Book EXPO in Dallas in March 2009.

Sponsored by Zondervan and Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, All About the Story is open to any unpublished writer who has attended a past Mount Hermon Writer's conference or who is registered for the 2009 conference. In addition to the opportunity for their work to be published by Zondervan, the winning author will also receive valuable feedback from editors and experienced judges, including bestselling Christian fiction authors Karen Kingsbury, Terri Blackstock, Brandilyn Collins and Noel Hynd.

"We know there are many talented Christian fiction writers who just need an opportunity like this to get the break they need to become a published author," said Dudley Delffs, vice president and publisher of Trade Books at Zondervan. "We are pleased to partner with Mount Hermon to uncover top writing talent just waiting to be discovered."

The All About the Story contest will be judged in three stages:

1. Synopsis and the first 5,000 words of work will be judged to determine semi-finalists.
2. Semi-finalists will submit a full manuscript to be judged by Zondervan editors to determine finalists.
3. The winner will be determined by a panel of bestselling authors.

The grand prize winner will receive a publishing contract with Zondervan including a $10,000 advance on royalties. Finalists will be recognized at the Christian Book EXPO in Dallas, Texas, March 20-22, 2009. The winner will be announced at the 2009 Mount Hermon Writer's Conference on Saturday, April 4, 2009.

All first-round entries must be received before November 5th, 2008. For additional information, and contest rules, visit or email

About Mount Hermon
Founded in 1906, Mount Hermon was the first Christian camp west of the Mississippi. From its inception, Mount Hermon has been both interdenominational and evangelical. For 102 years Mount Hermon has consistently proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Savior, by teaching the authoritative Word of God and serving churches and other Christian ministries both here and around the world.

About Zondervan
Zondervan, a HarperCollins company, is the world leader in Christian communications and the leading Christian publishing brand. For more than 75 years, Zondervan has delivered transformational Christian experiences by influential authors and emerging voices, and has been honored with more Christian Book Awards than any other publisher. Zondervan is headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., with offices in San Diego, Miami and London. Its resources are sold worldwide and are translated into nearly 200 languages in more than 60 countries. Visit Zondervan online at

Sorry for the unintentional haitus

Hi guys,

I didn't even realize that I hadn't been posting here on the Story Sensei for the past few weeks. I thought I'd scheduled Blogger to post, but instead I had saved my posts as drafts and they weren't posting at all.

I'll continue my "When should you hire a freelance editor?" series on Friday.


Writing quote: Bill Hull

This is a good quote for me as a writer, and I hope it inspires you, too!

What a great day it was when I finally came clean with God. My expectations had been wrong. I wanted a great ministry for me. There would be enough glory for God to have some too, of course, but I really wanted it for me. Then I was able to confess it as sin, repent, and turn away from good goals for wrong reasons.

I found simply imitating Jesus and leaving the results to God to be the scriptural approach. If God thought my contribution significant, He would arrange a wider hearing. It was not my business to be concerned about it. With this new outlook, obscurity was no threat, and fame no temptation. My reality was better, the anxiety space was closed, and my anxiety receded.

--Anxious for Nothing by Bill Hull (thanks to Cynthia Ruchti for this quote!)
Related Posts with Thumbnails