Too often, writers enter writing competitions with a great story in mind, but they don’t even come close to winning. Why not? It’s because they haven’t learned how to write effectively. The story is great, but the writer lacks the skills to put it onto paper so that it can be appreciated. Continue reading
As Mother’s Day approaches, many of us can only look deep into our heart for memories of this person we cherish. We go on each day through a driving force that she put in us as a child, and the hope of a good future that she gave us through her love. Continue reading
Sarah Davies is the teenage heroine in my fictional adventure series called, The Misadventures of Sarah Davies. She and her cousin, Meagan, frequently find themselves at the right place—but at the wrong time. Their planned vacations of rest and fun often turn into action-packed adventures that borderline nightmare as they are challenged with every skill they’ve ever learned about rescue and survival. Continue reading
No Compromise! Biblical Answers to Some of Today’s Issues is now available at Amazon.com and at the Bookstore at Westbow Press. Within the next few days it will be available in dozens of other markets across the globe, as well.
Hi everyone. It’s been a very long time since I last posted on this site and I sincerely apologize for allowing so much time to go by before I made it back here. It’s been a busy year for me, both personally and professionally.
Personally, our family endured the illness and death of my mother-in-law and that was a great loss to us, although we know she’s in Heaven with Jesus. But it’s taken a while for the void in our lives to fill in because she was so much a part of it. Then there were the deaths of three friends who all died far too young, and the trauma of my son moving two thousand miles away. On the brighter side, I’m still cancer free, and my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful vacation at my son’s new home.
There are many opportunities open to aspiring writers today that were rare privileges years ago. The traditional publishing system has taken a back step to the rage of self-publishers and that has brought about a whole new era of book marketing and publishing.
Today, literally anyone can write anything and have it published. No censors. No standards. No one to say it’s loaded with typos and format errors. This seems like a great reprieve for new authors who are desperate to get their work out there without any restrictions, but it’s not necessarily a good thing if they want to produce quality material.
Ideally, every person who wants to become a writer should take some kind of literacy course so they know how to plot a story, how to use correct grammar and spelling, and how to properly insert dialogue to make the story really dynamic. If you’re creative and have the gift to write, then why not perfect it and make it worth reading?
However, few new aspiring writers take any writing courses, and even fewer give any attention to the market or what is in demand. But for those writers who want to improve their writing skills but who don’t have the finances for any courses, a great training tool may be to enter writing contests.
These contests are more than just added venues to display written work. They have guidelines and restrictions that will train aspiring writers to adhere to specifics, which in turn will polish their writing skills. These competitions not only challenge the writer, but they teach them some great lessons.
Contests often have selected outlines to write to, and this encourages the writers to create a title that not only applies to their story, but draws in the reading audience. Poor titles turn away readers and good titles invite them.
They usually have a specific word count to write within and this trains the aspiring writer to write the story with as much packed information as possible into a specific number of words. When a story has too many words to describe something that could be done in few words, readers are often put off – confused – bored with reading. A shorter, well worded description will captivate readers and keep them reading.
Spelling typos and grammar errors are something that editors check for in writing contests, and knowing this the aspiring writers will take the time to edit their submission for these before they enter their work. This puts them in the habit of editing before publishing.
Most writing contests have a specific story line that is to be used and this is a great strategy for writers to realize that they are at the mercy of the reader. When the book rage was werewolves every new aspiring writer had a story to write, but as that rage left the books kept coming anyway and they got wasted because no one wanted to read about that anymore. The time was over and a new rage was on. Aspiring writers need to pay attention to what is in demand if they want their stories to be appreciated.
Dialogue is necessary in many stories, but a submission that is all dialogue won’t even make it to the judge’s desk because it can get too confusing to follow, and too many of “he said” and “she said” makes the story boring. Readers want to read some background and some description so they can use their own imaginations and become part of the plot.
Guidelines are necessary for every competition and are essential for the aspiring writer to read and to follow. When the writer decides to enter the contest and disregards some of the guidelines – or all of them – they show that they have no respect for the competition and in turn, they lose out because their story is tossed out. If you want your story to earn respect, then you need to begin by giving respect.
This author runs a monthly writing competition on LinkedIn and the winners are collected into a yearly anthology that is published each spring. The purpose of these competitions is to give writers an opportunity to write according to the selected title and within the designated guidelines, and to get the best ones published – for free!
Many of the earlier aspiring authors no longer enter the competitions because they’ve learned how to write and are on to bigger and more rewarding challenges. But lately, many of the new aspiring authors submit their stories without reading any of the guidelines, and instead of having their work read and even published their stories are discarded immediately because they did not follow the guidelines.
Following guidelines are crucial when entering writing contests, so if you want to be part of a winning challenge then you must stop putting yourself above the others and start writing what is being asked.
Writing competitions are opportunities for aspiring writers to get their work out there and read. You may enter many times before you win, but if you learn from each rejection then you’ll continue to improve your skills and move closer to writing a winning story. When the reward is publication, it’s a sure feather in your hat that shows other editors who are waiting in the shadows that you know how to write.
If you’re serious about writing and don’t have an opportunity to enrol in courses to improve your skills, then take advantage of writing competitions and learn from them how to become a winner.
As readers, we all know that there are titles to certain articles or stories that grab our attention immediately and challenge us to read on, while others send up red flags that say, “Boring. Pass.” So, as authors we need to learn how to impress our readers by learning how to write dynamic titles.
There are basically six things to know about writing titles.
1) The title should introduce the article or story. Many authors treat the title as a label and head their written work with whatever comes to their own mind of reference. This is great for the author’s file, but bad for the reader’s interest. The title must reflect what the content is about. More distinctly, the title should represent the “point” of the content – the highlight or the purpose. Readers who are looking for information on this specific content will be drawn immediately if the title appeals to their own needs and interests. They don’t want to guess at it or be mislead and read an article that really didn’t help them.
2) The title should be short and to the point. We live in a fast-paced world that boasts of “instant” everything and that includes titles to written work. A long, drawn out title not only takes too long to read, but it’s boring. The title must fit within the three-second window of reading it out loud. Anything longer than that will be passed over because no one wants to take the time to read a long title and then have to think if this might be what they’re looking for.
3) The title should challenge the reader. Since the internet has become a digital replacement for libraries and resource centers, many readers search online for information to help them with something. If the article you’re writing is to provide information, then use titles such as, “How to” or “Tips for” or “Reasons to”. These titles catch the reader’s attention right away, especially if he or she is looking for instructions or information on something as a quick reference.
4) The title should follow title format. Titles should always have each word begin in Upper Case with the exception of words with two letters or less, with three-letter adjectives such as “the” and conjunctions such as “and”. One of the most frequent errors that I see in writing titles comes from within my online short story competition group where writers will only use upper case on the first word of the title and lower case for the rest of the words. The title is not part of the body and needs to be written in title format, not body format. (You can click here to learn about prepositions.)
5) The title should be easy to remember. Authors want their work to spread quickly among the groups of readers and the best way to do this is through word-of-mouth. Nothing puts a writer’s work onto the back of the shelf faster than a title that readers can’t remember. And nothing puts the article on the front of the shelf faster than a title that is on the tip of every reader’s tongue.
6) The title should use SEO words. Search Engine Optimization is a system where major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing will select specific words based on demand and popularity. So if a reader is searching for information on how to build solar panels, and that is what your article is about, you need to learn what words readers are using to search for this information and then have them included in your title. Click here to learn more about SEO.
7) The title needs to be unique and not one that’s already used. Sometimes it pays to do a bit of research and see if the title you want has already been taken. You want your title be the only one of its kind so that when readers search for it, they’ll see it right away and not have to shuffle through a page of similar titles to find it.
8) Finally, the title does not end with a period, nor does it have quotations around it. Punctuation is reserved for the body unless some of the short-form words require it such as “it’s” or “wouldn’t”.
Since the title is the first thing that readers will see, it should be a strong introduction to the quality of writing by the author. If the title attracts readers then it also helps to establish the credibility of author’s work. The same rule applies to a badly written title because if it turns away readers, it also prevents the author from being recognized and their writing from being read.
Whether you decide on your title first and then write the story around it, or write the story first and choose a title from the content, make sure the title is one that will grab the attention of your designated reading audience. This is one instance where first impressions really do count.
The first thing you do is realize that you’re not a recognized author yet, and that there are things you need to learn as you travel the path that leads you to success. Here are eight tips that will help you toward that goal.
1. Read the guidelines. Whether you’re entering a writing competition or submitting a manuscript to a publisher, there are specific requirements for each kind of submission that must be met. You need to understand what each particular publisher is looking for and submit to their demands; it does not work the other way around.
When publishers see that you adhere to their requests and expectations, they will keep you in the corner of their mind even if your current entry is rejected or doesn’t win. They’ll see that you are submissive and talented and will look forward to each future entry with hopeful potential. However, when you disregard what they have plainly stated they’re looking for, your name gets flagged and they’ll simply disregard all future submissions.
2. Check for typos. Publishers are easily turned off when the work they read is filled with typos. In fact, some won’t even read past the first typo because they feel that the author hasn’t edited it properly and that it is not their job to edit it for them.
3. Check for the use of correct grammar. When the grammar is correct, the story flows easily and properly and will captivate the publishing editor. But, when incorrect grammar is used, such as “there instead of they’re” or “your instead of you’re”, they are quickly put off and will assume that the author doesn’t know how to write.
4. Check your facts. If you’re writing a non-fiction of any kind, make sure that your facts are correct and supported with authentic reference. Many publishers will list the sites that they will and will not accept, so make sure you know which sites to use for reference. Never state a fact that you don’t support, and never “assume” any fact as your opinion for most non-fiction writing, with the exception of a first person article or story.
5. Be consistent. If you’re writing in the first person [with you being the narrator] then you need to keep that voice going throughout the story, and if you’re writing with a main protagonist, then you need to keep the protagonist’s thoughts and words as the main thought. This means that you can write what she is thinking and why, but you can’t know what other characters are thinking so you would draw conclusions from their actions only.
6. Keep the story tense consistent. If you’re writing in the past, keep it in the past and don’t bring in words that refer to the present or the future. Each paragraph must maintain this consistency even though you can skip ahead or go back in time through the character’s thoughts or actions in other paragraphs. Many aspiring writers use words such as “was” and “is” in the same paragraph and this is incorrect.
7. Never give quotes without permission. You can’t say that John Doe, for example, said such and such and then write the quote without that person’s permission. What you would do if you wanted to use their quote is state that it was published in a certain place and that you are repeating it.
An example would be, “It was reported in the Central Star Magazine in July of 2012 that John Doe said, ‘Mr. Smith joked to me several times that he was taking money from petty cash.’” This allows the statement to be said without any consequences coming back to you, and readers can verify the statement through the source in which it was originally given.
8. Use easy flowing character names. Even though authors today include many cultures in their stories and even though some of their names may be long and difficult to pronounce, you need to give your characters names that roll off the tongue. Nothing steals the reader’s captivity faster than a name that they can’t pronounce. So, even if the name is authentic for the character you need to state at the onset that the name is this, but she known to everyone as this.
Publishing editors look for these details in every story an author submits, and they not only make the submission worth reading, but they describe the author’s credentials and become the key that will lead to success.
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* Please visit my site and enjoy free reading excerpts from all of my books, which include four books in the action-adventure series, Misadventures of Sarah Davies, one adult suspense, Web Secrets, and one Inspirational, Let Faith Arise!
Many aspiring authors have no concept as to how the characters build a story OR how they draw in the readers. Some have a favorite name or personality that they want to write about and just put them into the story without matching that character with the reality of the story line. One thing that every good writer knows is that choosing believable characters is as important as writing a dynamic plot.
How to Create Characters
First of all, we need to have one protagonist – that is, one main character who is the hero or the star of the book or story. This will be someone who the reader can identify with and who will be the one character of the story that will captivate them into wanting to read more stories from the same author. Remember Nancy Drew? But then sometimes there are two characters who work as a team throughout the story and who both take the lead in characters. Remember the Hardy Boys? There were hundreds of books to these two series because the readers loved these main characters and wanted to read more.
Secondly, there needs to be secondary characters that the readers can also relate to, but there shouldn’t be too many or else there will be confusion. This number would depend on the story, but it’s usually between four and six. Remember the TV show, Friends? The show was about six characters, but each episode usually involved only one or two of them, and the rest became secondary characters.
Then there needs to be add-on characters that challenge the main characters. These would be ones who have small, yet necessary, roles in the story. There can be many throughout the story because their part is usually small, but unique. An example could be a boss who challenges the main character’s abilities, or a store clerk or the paper boy who throws the newspaper into the bushes every day.
The names of the characters are as important as the characters. They need to be easy to pronounce so they roll off the tongue and don’t cause the reader to stop their captivation with the story to try to pronounce the name. An example might be a character whose full name is Ziggliangilola – not easy to pronounce – but one that can be shortened to Ziggy.
The dialogue of the characters has to match the persona of the characters. If a character is a visitor from Australia, for example, he or she may have very different expressions or not be up on all the latest American jargon. They may even have a poor understanding of the English language. As an author we need to write their dialogue correctly into the story. And we have to make sure that the wording, expressions and speech matches the age bracket, as well.
Character dress code is also important to ensure the reality of the story. The story may be about teens, for example, but an old or older character likely won’t dress the way teens do in America today. And teens from other countries may also have their own standards for dress codes.
The time or era of the story and the props must also match the characters in dialogue, dress code and mannerisms to make the story real. For example, if we’re writing about a teen situation in the 50’s, we would not talk about cell phones or texting because that was not in existence at that time. As well, if we’re including older characters, they may not be fluent in the use of electronics and the art of texting, so we need to be wise in how we deal with these issues in our story.
Reality in stories will draw in the reading audience. We can’t write a story about a time in history or a specific culture or even a real life incident without learning some of the background information first. It’s not enough to guess; we need to know for sure because our readers will find the flaw right away. Readers enjoy great fiction stories, but there has to be enough reality in it for them to connect to the plot and to the characters.
So, if we have a specific character in mind, then we can write that character into the story and know that their lifestyle, dialogue, habits and mannerisms are believable for the age, culture, era, education and general persona of that character. Of course, a fantasy or a satire may be the exception to the rule, but for most fiction stories, believable characters add strength and quality to the story.
The Clever family from the “Leave it to Beaver” TV series would be written very differently in today’s world and that’s because there are changes in lifestyle that would adversely change the characters and the plot. So, if we’re writing a story with the Clever’s lifestyle and era in mind, then we need to do a little research to make sure the characters and the plot are believable for that time.
Favorable characters captivate the reader and put us on the road to giving them a best seller!
* I’ve written an action-packed series called The Misadventures of Sarah Davies, which is about a modern-day young adult who is always at the right place, but at the wrong time. She is the protagonist in all four books and her cousin and two guy friends are the secondary characters that bring her character to light. Check these books out at my website where you can read excerpts from each book. They would make an awesome yet inexpensive Christmas gift for any young adult reader.