Megan's short story, Kaleidoscope, was published by Shift Magazine. Check it out here.
Justine talks about where she has found story inspiration and where you can uncover some of your own over at her blog.
Megan explores how to handle potentially triggering scenes in your work on her personal author blog, here.
Today, on her blog, Justine discusses how plotting differs for her short stories and her novel-length works. Check out the post here.
We have two announcements for you today.
1) We are open to submissions again!
2) If you're doing Camp NaNoWriMo in April, our very own Justine Manzano has a private cabin where she will be serving as a cheerleader, support, and/or mentor while she works on a book of her own. There are still empty spots in the cabin!
To send us your submission and/or to join Justine's cabin, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope to hear from you soon!
Megan is talking about how her experiences as both a writer and an editor inform each other. Read all about it here.
Manuscript 4 went a bit more roughly for us than the previous three, largely because it had one foot in the door of fantasy, and the other in the erotica door, a genre in which we don’t have much experience. Despite this, we worked hard to give a strong, viable critique to our author. This was honestly more difficult than we’d expected, and we’ll dive into some of our reasoning below. None of this is to say that the manuscript is not salvageable, and we gave our author tips in this regard. As for the rest…well, you’ll see below. Before you dive in, I would like to issue a trigger warning regarding discussion of rape/sexual assault in broad strokes (no details or anything), something our editors had wished they’d had before diving in themselves.
My comments fall into two categories this time around.
Firstly, when working on a manuscript, be sure the events of your query can be reasonably foreseen in your first three chapters. Meaning, while I don’t expect the entire pitch of the query laid out in the nascent chapters of a novel, I want to be able to see the potential of it in the character and setting of the story. If I don’t get that, the promise of the query is not fulfilled, and I become completely unsure of the ability of the author to execute the story I thought I would be reading.
Which leads me to my second point.
When you’re working in the field of literary criticism, you have to keep an ear to what the industry is buzzing about. As an author, I feel this can help an author greatly. You start to hear about patterns emerging from stories, what agents and publishers are getting sick of, what is down in sales, etc.
As the industry begins (and it’s really just beginning) to turn its ear further toward diversity, we see the tastes of agents and publishers changing. Look at the manuscript wish list of most agents and you see requests for all different kinds of diversity. One of these types are growing requests for strong female protagonists in fantasy fiction. Why? Because more old school fantasy relied on some pretty heavily anti-feminist tropes. Largely, the damsel-in-distress fantasy narrative.
Most books like these do the following to their female character.
These tropes, strung together in this way, form a cliche, and the one thing we should always try to avoid as authors is cliche.
If a writer includes a rape/attempted rape scene in their story, they should ask themselves if there is a reason for it to be particularly that kind of attack that needs to be meted out on the character before proceeding. Especially if your audience is meant to be a female audience, because women do not particularly like reading about rape (kinks aside, naturally).
George R.R. Martin, when asked how he writes such interesting female characters, answered, “You know, I've always considered women to be people.” If you wouldn’t want a male character doing something, enduring something, because you would find it uninteresting or horrifying to the point where you might not want to read further, keep that in mind when building a female character.
As writers we fight a never ending battle to create something that is both sought after by the current market and original. It is a seemingly contradictory tightrope from which many writers have fallen. The key is to find that aspect of your story that is unique amid the genre that defines it. This is especially true with vital scenes, such as when we are introduced to an important character. We should strive to make characters that stand out and can exist apart from the genre, characters who are more than just tools to push the narrative forward.
Likewise, an original storyline is difficult to achieve in an age where all genres have been thoroughly explored. Despite how discouraging that can seem, the same principal applies. You can write a story in the same genre, using similar tropes and similar plots, so long as you have elements of it that are all yours.
I’ve said this before, but it merits revisiting: Descriptions are the anchors to which the reader attaches to the story. A good story needs to have good anchors to draw the reader in and to fully immerse the reader in that world. Especially when writing fantasy stories or any story where the setting is supposed to be vastly different from our own, how one describes the surroundings helps to establish the new world as much as the actions of the characters do. So, careful attention must be paid to making sure there are enough descriptive markers to properly establish your world, lest you confuse the reader as to what type of story they are reading.
For my section of the blog, I’m going to echo some of Justine’s points, but on a broader scale. In order to have a story, there needs to be a plot, an end goal, something that the main character is going to try and achieve. There are many ways to get there and every writer has the freedom to choose which way that is. The question that needs to be asked when adding an event to a story is: why am I putting this here? Is the main character developing? Is this going to foreshadow an idea I have later? Is this moving my story closer to its conclusion? If you can’t say yes to these questions, it may be time to consider why you are writing said scene.
Something critiqued a lot in the writing world is when a writer creates a scene that is obviously meant to cause drama. It falls out of step with their overall narrative or makes the reader question what is going on with the main character. It can even make interactions feel unnatural. The whole purpose of a plot is to have drama and excitement intuitively built into it. There’s the rising action, all of the events that are building with every page, the climax, which is the meat of the story, and the falling action, how the story comes to an end. Forcing tension or chaos ruins the progression of these events and in some cases can be detrimental to an audience. It can also go against what is new or wanted in the publishing world. If you are writing a graphic scene or one you feel is out of your comfort zone, a second opinion may help - even a sensitivity reader who can gauge your material and catch errors or assumptions you may not have found on your own.
The bottom line here is don’t push drama where it isn’t needed. Let your story create it.
My grammatical tip of the day is be careful of transitional words and phrases. These are words like ‘then’, ‘suddenly,’ ‘before’ etc. While they are useful in most cases, too many of these can clutter your story. It takes away from the prose and can read like an instruction manual. Don’t say, “Then this happened.” You can simply say ”They did this" or "They moved to do this." Find a variety of ways to show action. Simply starting a new sentence indicates a shifting of thought and often times, a shifting of action.
When it comes to words like ‘suddenly’, you very rarely need them. Writing involves being crafty and toying around with language. Don't tell your readers something is going to happen or it is going to happen fast. Show them. Throw your readers into the scene. Instead of "suddenly, she was punched," say "she was taken aback by knuckles colliding with her face." It creates tension. It comes with its own ‘suddenly’ implied. This will strengthen any fight scenes or plot twists you have in store. It'll create the desired effect of drawing a reaction from your reader.
After much council deliberation, we have decided we want to open up submissions to more than just fantasy manuscripts. We will now be open to all genres but erotica! Our latest submission period is now open and will close on March 6th. For more details, please visit the How To Reach Us page. We hope to hear from you very soon!
Megan guest posted on editor Kate Foster's blog yesterday about how she goes about working through a short story. Check it out here.
This time around, The Inkwell Council jumped outside of our chosen Fantasy genre. After seeing a chat on twitter in which an author said she wished she could submit to us, but she writes dystopian science fiction. While we all had agreed to only take fantasy manuscripts, we also read and love dystopian science fiction. We told the author that we’d consider her submission with the rest of them, and in the end, her dystopian science fiction submission came out on top.
Still, we had advice to offer, and we each will be discussing our strongest notes on the project here.
Much of the time, as writers, when we write our first drafts, we aren’t worried about theme or symbolism. We’re just trying to tell the story that has entered our minds and decided to haunt us. As we start to unpack that story, we often start figuring out our symbols, our themes, what exactly it is we are trying to say with the story we’ve created. That’s part of the magic of story. These ideas were probably in the background the entire time, but didn’t assert themselves until we started to weave the story together.
Because of this, some of our symbols don’t always have a place in the beginning of the book, or we can mix messages throughout as we struggle to pick up that thread that becomes the statement of our tale.
This means that when we reread the manuscript for the first time, one of the things we should have on our checklist of things to look for should be any symbolism we have threaded through the novel, as well as our overall theme. The idea is to make sure you don’t contradict yourself or try to cram in too many themes at the beginning that die out in the course of the story. If you do, that is something that needs to be corrected.
What we want our readers to experience is much like what we experienced when we were initially constructing the story. We want the reader to be taken in by your words, and we want them to enjoy the story. Along the way, we want them to begin to understand why you’re telling this story, what you’re trying to say, and when they get there, to that glorious a-ha moment, we want them to be able to say, “Now I get it. This is where they were heading the whole time.” And we want them to have proof of the path it took for them to get there.
Whenever you create a character, conveying them to your reader will be done in three ways: action, dialogue, and thought. The biggest challenge is making sure all of these things align. Are your character’s words lining up with how they’re acting and feeling? If not, is there a reason or do you have to take a step back and figure out what is going on? As we write and edit, we are always going to run into problems with making everything tie together, but if we want our characters and messages strong, the work will always be worth it.
Sometimes when we try to convey thoughts, especially for characters that have a lot going on, we can get stuck between utilizing our language and writing via stream of consciousness. What the latter means is we write how we ourselves would think. Stream of consciousness is similar to a flow of water, moving from one thought to the next and then to the next. Our brain runs through many thoughts at once and it’s one thing to interpret it from within, another to write it down coherently while sticking to grammatical rules. This can lead to run on sentences or sentences that get clunky and weighed down.
The best way to stop this is by inserting punctuation. If a sentence is separated by too many commas or ands, more than likely you need to place a period there. Sometimes, you may even need a dash. These punctuation marks indicate full stops, a way for the reader to gain a reprieve and reflect on what you’re saying without feeling overwhelmed. Not only that, but your manuscript will read more smoothly and demonstrate what you need to say or what your character needs to say. The last thing you want as a writer is for your character to come across unclear or their thoughts to be scattered about without anything to tether them to.
As writers we are tasked with creating a story that is unique. Nowadays, the market is saturated with all kind of books and it can be daunting to write a story that offers the reader something new, even if it has elements we've all seen before. More importantly, we need to write a story that is interesting to us. If the story doesn't interest the writer, it won't hook the reader.
The problem inherent in this duality is you end up serving two masters: yourself and your reader. And as any writer can tell you, the reader may not share your view on what is interesting and what is not. That one element of the story that you cherish may strike the reader as unnecessary, or worse, confusing, and you run the risk of trying to force a concept down the reader’s throat.
Of course, you shouldn't write solely for readers, but endeavor to help them understand what it is about your idea that you find fascinating. In essence, you need to justify it. And if you cannot, if the reader cannot see why a thing or an event or a person is important to the story, then maybe it isn't. Or maybe it simply needs a little reworking. This doesn't mean you have to cater to the reader exactly, but guide them so they walk that literary path alongside you, not struggling to catch up a few miles behind.
While it can sound difficult, it isn't an impossible hurdle to cross. Everyone must find their own way of walking that tightrope, but I find it helpful to write to satisfy the story itself, not yourself or the reader.