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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Basic Building Blocks of Good Story Structure

I'm over at Cheryl Wyatt's blog today talking about the Basic Building Blocks of Good Story Structure:

Hey there! This is Camy Tang, and Cheryl is letting me guest blog today!

She wanted me to talk about the basic building blocks of good story structure because I tend to naturally look at stories on a structural level. When I do telephone consultations for my Story Sensei critique service, most of my clients are looking for help to fix their novels’ story structures.


Click here to read the rest of the article

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Q&A: Deep point of view versus omniscient point of view

A few weeks ago, Roxo left this question in the comments section of my Head Hopping article:

Hi!
Maybe it sounds a little stupid, but my question is: why deep point of view is better than omniscient point of view? In school we don't even learn about the former.
It's not that I don't like it, I love it actually (deep point of view I mean) but I would like to know what is it that makes it better than omniscient.

Thanks !


I answered in the comments section, but then thought that other writers might also be interested in the answer:

Hi Roxo,
It's not a stupid question!

Deep point of view inserts the reader into the character's body, which often creates a more deeply emotional reading experience and consequently makes the book a bit richer emotionally. Epics told in omniscient point of view tend to be very sweeping in scope but sometimes a little shallow in terms of emotion.

Most readers don't realize that the publishing industry has moved more toward deep point of view rather than omniscient in the last several years. It's an industry trend. Most new writers wanting to break in to the industry now should probably write in deep point of view if only to increase their chances of being contracted.

Camy


When I mention how the industry has moved toward deep point of view--I promise I'm not talking out of my butt. I have spoken with numerous industry professionals--editors, agents--as well as worked personally with several publishing house editors. They all agree that deep point of view tends to be preferred in the publishing industry today when they look at manuscripts from unpublished writers.

Multipublished authors will sometimes write in omniscient point of view. However, that is because they are multipublished and have been in the publishing industry for a long time. They can pretty much write whatever they want. You will not often see debut novelists writing in omniscient point of view for an entire novel, although there are exceptions, naturally.

However, for most of the unpublished writers whom I mentor, and for whom I critique, I usually suggest they switch their manuscript to deep point of view to increase their chances of getting contracted by a traditional publishing house.

The one glaring exception to everything I've said above is literary fiction. My experience is in genre fiction, not literary fiction. So I haven't talked to any editors who specialize in literary fiction. They might say that omniscient point of view is preferred for literary fiction, but I wouldn't know.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rewards Per Page - article by Vince Mooney

Forgive me if I gush but this is one of the best articles I've read in a long time, and I promise it's not because he quoted my book in it. His list of Rewards Per Page is absolutely stellar, because it's a very concise list of things I point out to my clients when I critique manuscripts. In future, I intend to point them to this article since it's so comprehensive and well written.

How Rewarding is the ‘Reading Experience’ Provided by Your Writing?

Measuring “Rewards-Per-Page” Can Give You an Indication of this Important Success Factor.


Click here for the rest of the article

Friday, July 17, 2009

Talking to Editors and Agents at conferences

I was at Seekerville yesterday talking about talking to editors and agents at conferences:

Camy here, talking about pitching (both formal and informal) since many of you are probably at the Romance Writers of America National Convention right now!

I'm not a natural extrovert, but I force myself to be one at conferences in order to meet writers, editors and agents. I want to present a professional demeanor and make a good impression.

That's kind of hard to do when my mouth has suddenly become the Mojave desert and my legs have rooted through my Nine Wests into the floor.


Click here to read the rest of the article.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Show versus Tell, example fourteen

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

This example is from my own proposal. It’s an Inspirational romantic suspense.

(From Jorge's point of view)

Jorge explained, “My brother still visits some of his old friends to try to get them to come to church with him.”

“Oh.” Her eyes skittered away as she renewed her vigor in sweeping.

She had never been comfortable talking about her faith. They’d rarely talked about God when they were dating, but she had said she was a strong Christian.


The last paragraph is all telling. There’s a more dynamic and interesting way to show this information, plus you can use this as a way to deepen the point of view.

I decided to anchor the information in Jorge’s current thoughts and wonderings, which are all in real time. It turns the paragraph into a combination of backstory information about her faith and Jorge’s current thoughts in the scene.

Jorge explained, “My brother still visits some of his old friends to try to get them to come to church with him.”

“Oh.” Her eyes skittered away as she renewed her vigor in sweeping.

Strange, she seemed even more uncomfortable talking about her faith than a month ago. They’d rarely talked about God, but she’d never actually avoided the subject like this before. She had said she was a strong Christian—was her faith wavering in the face of all the recent problems?


The boldface phrases are all current, Jorge’s thoughts in real time. It shows the backstory information mixed with the immediate thoughts so that it: (a) is in deep point of view and (b) shows forward movement in the story (c) without pausing to “tell” the reader about the heroine’s faith struggles.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grammar, Punctuation, and Style for Fiction

Recently, a friend had witnessed a heated discussion between writers about the MLA Style book and the Chicago Manual of Style. She suggested I write an article on it. If you're not a fiction writer, this won't apply to you, but if you do write fiction, here's important information for you about style standards at major publishing houses. This article, which I wrote, originally appeared on Suite101.

Grammar, Punctuation, and Style for Market Fiction

Some Tips on Style Used By Publishing Houses

Writers should be aware that the style books used at colleges may be different from the style book used by a publishing house for novels.

Many colleges use the MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, also known as the MLA Style book. However, the style book used by most major publishing houses is the The Chicago Manual of Style. (At the time of this writing, this link is for the 16th edition. You should go with the most recent edition.)

Fiction authors should be aware that there are differences between them.

The Chicago Manual of Style Is the Industry Standard

While the MLA Style book is a good resource, most major publishing houses adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) instead. There are some differences in terms of punctuation, grammar, and word usage.

Fiction authors submitting to literary agents or editors should make sure their manuscript adheres to the CMS. Otherwise, differences in punctuation and grammar will make the manuscript look unprofessional, even though it adheres to the MLA.

Writers should strive to submit their best and most professional work, because a manuscript’s unprofessional appearance can adversely affect the agent or editor’s impression of the writer and the quality of the work. “Incorrect” grammar can negatively color the agent or editor’s impression of the story.

Each Publishing House Has Its Own Style Sheets

While major publishing houses adhere to the CMS, they will often have their own “in-house” style sheets that indicate where their grammar, punctuation, and/or word usage will differ from the CMS.

Most the time, these style sheets are not available to unpublished authors.

The writer’s best bet is to simply adhere to the CMS. Editors realize that an outside writer would not know the in-house style sheets, and therefore, they will not reject a manuscript for not adhering to it. However, they will expect the manuscript to adhere to the CMS.

One Exception Is the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style

Many major publishing houses who publish exclusively in the Christian market will adhere to the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style in addition to the CMS. Where the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style differs from the CMS, the houses will usually go with the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.

Writers submitting to Christian market publishing houses may want to make sure their work adheres to the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style as well as the CMS. Most of the differences between the Christian Writer’s Manual and the CMS lie in how religious terms are used and punctuated.

Know Your Grammar

Writers should have a strong grasp of grammar and punctuation, regardless of whether they adhere to the MLA or the CMS. If your grammar and punctuation is a bit weak, it will be worth it to spend some time brushing up.

A cheap and easy way is to get a middle school grammar book from a family member and study it. There are also good resources online like www.dailygrammar.com and www.grammarcheck.com.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Finding "Telling" and Fixing It

This article that I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

Finding “Telling” and Fixing It

How to Show Instead of Tell

Here are some tips for identifying when a novelist “tells” instead of “shows” and how to fix it.

Many times, writers hear the injunction, “Show, don’t tell.” But how to know when you’re “telling” instead of showing, and what do you do about it?

Finding “Telling”

“Telling” is always difficult for writers to discover in their own writing, so a writer shouldn’t be discouraged if he can’t see it during revisions.

There are many online articles to explain “showing” versus “telling,” including this one which lists examples of “showing” and “telling.”

Be aware that there are some instances where “telling” is needed rather than showing.

However, in many cases, the “telling” is unnecessary and should be “shown” instead.

Critique partners are good resources for pointing out “telling” in a manuscript. An objective outside reader will usually be able to find “telling” with more ease than the author.

Also, an author who critiques other manuscripts will see the “telling” in other writers’ works, and the more instances of “telling” a writer sees, the better he can find it in his own writing.

The best way to have this kind of excessive exposure to “telling” is when the writer does a lot of critiquing of other writers—whether critique partners or in a large online critique group. If you don’t have a critique group, this page lists critiquing resources, including links.

Identify the Pertinent Information In the Segment of “Telling”

Just because a sentence or paragraph is “telling” does not mean the information isn’t important. It could be that the information just needs to be “shown,” or perhaps the information is not important to the current action of the scene.

Look at your segment of “telling” and distill it into the information that the reader absolutely needs to know in order to understand the book. Ask yourself if the reader would be completely confused in the segment of telling was removed, or if the reader could still understand the story well enough.

If the reader could still understand the story, cut the segment of “telling.”

If the segment has information the reader needs in order not to be confused, then figure out if the current scene needs the information, or if it could be more emotionally impactful being revealed elsewhere in the novel.

Determine the Best Scene For the Information

Often, the information in the segment of “telling” is more pertinent to a later scene.

Withholding the information can create mystery for the reader, compelling him to continue to reading to find out what’s going on. So while the writer might think he needs to lay all the information out, often withholding information generates more reader interest.

Figure out which scene absolutely needs the information in order for the reader to understand the story. Then determine where in that scene the information can be inserted.

Insert the Information In an Unusual Way

The writer has two options—to “tell” the information in the new scene, or to insert the information in a clever, more unique way.

“Telling” in the form of a short phrase or sentence is often good to not hinder the flow of dialogue or action. However, anything longer than a phrase or sentence will often stall the reading flow.

Another option is to convey the information in dialogue.

A writer can also “show” the information with a character’s actions. For example, to show a fear of heights, rather than “telling” the reader in an earlier scene, show the character frozen on top of the Ferris Wheel.

Ultimately, the writer should figure out a way that seems right for the scene and the story, and insert the information.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The first page, part 9 - Make every word count

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part eight.

Make every word count

This goes back to how you only have one page to hook an editor. If that editor isn’t hooked by that first page, he or she will move the entire manuscript to the Reject pile without even bothering to go to page two.

That being the case, you should expend considerable effort to not have any useless words on that first page.

Make every description juicy and unique, without any “throw-away” words or phrases.

Make every line of dialogue snappy and emotional, without unnecessary tags or adverbs.

Make every sentence concise and precise—nothing meandering or vague or fluffy.

Introduce your character with clear but unique descriptors, whether in dialogue or by action. Don’t waste time with backstory and “telling” the reader what’s happening—suck the reader in to “show” them what’s happening as it happens to the character.

Dwight Swain has an entire chapter in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer, where he talks about just the words a writer should use. Now, granted, Swain is a bit wordy himself, but he wouldn’t go off for so long on the topic if it weren’t important.

So go through every word on that first page and determine its importance and it’s vibrancy.

If a word is bland, try to come up with something stronger. If a word is unnecessary, cut ruthlessly.

Spend time on each and every word, no matter how tedious that might sound to you. Just do it, because you’ll be glad you did when an editor reads that first page and then HAS to read on to page two.

Click here for part ten.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Pubbing 1.0 How I did it by Camy Tang

I’m on the Steeple Hill blog in an interview with advice for writers, especially those targeting Steeple Hill.

1. What’s your sale story? How did you end up selling to Steeple Hill?

I’ve been reading Steeple Hill books since the 1990s, so when I first started writing seriously, I targeted Steeple Hill as a publisher.


Click here for the rest of the interview

Friday, July 03, 2009

Head-Hopping

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

Head-Hopping

What It Is and Why To Avoid It

Many beginning writers utilize quick switches in point of view, which is not used as often these days in the publishing industry.

Twenty years ago, omniscient point of view was commonly used in fiction. However, these days, a deep third person point of view is preferred most of the time (there are exceptions, naturally).

In deep third person point of view, the writing is in third person but the language drops the reader into the character’s head and body.

When the point of view shifts to a different character in the midst of a scene, this is called head-hopping because the reader feels as if he is hopped from one character’s head into another.

Moving the reader from one character to the other so many times will often disorient the reader. This will also not allow the reader to feel connected with any one character in the scene. This reduces character sympathy and the reader may not care enough about the character to continue reading the book.

Stick To One Or Two Points Of View Per Scene

Rather than moving from character to character, keep the point of view in one character’s head for the entire scene.

Some writers will shift to a second character in the scene, but they only do this once per scene and the shift is signified by a scene break, to signal to the reader about the new point of view.

So, at maximum, the writer should only have two points of view per scene—starting the scene in one character’s point of view, and ending in the second character’s point of view, with only one shifting in the middle. The writer should not shift from one character to the other and back again several times in the scene.

Several Point of View Shifts With Scene Breaks Is Still Head-Hopping

Some writers will shift point of view several times in a scene, but separate each shift with a scene break. This is still considered head-hopping.

Even though the scene break signifies the point of view shift, the reader will still feel the negative effects of head-hopping—disorientation and/or reduced character sympathy.

Writers don’t want to give the reader any reason to stop reading the book.

Published Authors Head-Hop, But Unpublished Authors Should Not

There are a few published authors who head-hop or switch point of view several times per scene.

However, as an unpublished writer trying to break into the industry, writers should avoid these point of view switches in order to appear more professional to the editor or agent reading the manuscript.

The adage is, “Better safe than sorry.” A writer would not want an editor to reject a manuscript because it looks unprofessional due to the head-hopping or point of view switches. Don’t give an editor or agent an unprofessional reason to reject your manuscript.
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