New online class coming up next week!

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Want some hands-on help understanding how structure will help your story and crafting your revision plan? Sign up for my next online class, starting Sunday!

Structural Self-Editing: GPS for Your Story Jordan McCollum

28 September – 25 October 2015
taught at SavvyAuthors.com

Sign up today!
focus
After a first draft, do you have a solid story or . . . not quite? A structural edit enables you to refine your individual scenes and guide your work on the highest level. Discover how to build strong narrative structure, create a resonant theme, and craft an unputdownable story through the structural self-editing process.

This hands-on class will give you the tools and guidance necessary to understand good story structure and apply it to your story. Before you start polishing your prose, tap into the power of these vital editing tools to get your whole novel on the right course.

Stats

Level: Mixed/Beginning/Intermediate/Advanced
Where: The Savvy Forums
Cost: Premium Savvy Author Members $30 / Basic Members $40

Syllabus

Week 1: Crafting your character arc & thinking about theme
Week 2: Strong story structure & solid scene structure
Week 3: Common pitfalls of story and scene structure
Week 4: The Scene Chart–find weak spots & craft your revision plan

Sign up today!

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#TackleYourTBR Read-a-thon: Spy challenge!

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Who doesn’t love a good spy novel? (Put your hands down!) I love to read them and write them. What’s not to love about fun, love, lies, secrets and spies? The main characters in my next spy novel, coming out next month, love spy fiction and movies, too, so I’ve had to read (and watch) even more spy fiction.

Today as part of the #TackleYourTBR Read-a-thon, we’ve got a fun spy challenge. Can you match up these literary spies with their authors in the form below?

Character Author
Jason Bourne Robert Ludlum
Cammie Morgan Dorothy Gilman
Talia Reynolds John Le Carré
James Bond Ally Carter
George Smiley Jordan McCollum (yes, me!)
Jack Ryan Ian Fleming
Mrs. Pollifax Tom Clancy

Deadline: Wednesday, September 23, 2015, 11:59 PM PDT

Prize
SpyAnotherPrequel_BoxSet_LRGSpyAnotherDay_BoxSet_LRG
The complete Spy Another Day series in Kindle, nook or PDF format!

Winner will be chosen at random from correct entries received through the form by the deadline! If no correct entries are received, I’ll be super sad. And the prize will go to the person with the most correct answers. Entrants do not have to be part of the #TackleYourTBR Read-a-thon. The winner will be contacted via email.

CONTEST IS CLOSED

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Coming July 7: Gesture Crutches Webinar

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Do you want to make your characters unique and avoid empty repetition and clichés? Sign up for my Gesture Crutches webinar, coming up JULY 7 at 8 PM MDT/5 PM PDT. The presentation will be followed by a live chat Q&A. The cost is $10.

gesture crutchesSmiling, nodding, laughing, sighing, frowning–they’re all the little gestures we use every day to convey meaning, and they can creep into every page of our writing. These overused actions quickly become flat clichés, sapping your story’s power. Come learn how to find these common “gesture crutches,” discover new strategies to fix them, and use the smallest gestures to personalize your characters.

To sign up, visit my online courses page!

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Character Depth is here!

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If you’ve joined my mailing list, you already know this is coming, but now it’s here! Book 3 in the Writing Craft series: Character Depth!

cover

Buy it now!

The print version is coming to Amazon as soon as it gets processed, but you can order it directly from CreateSpace now!

For the first 90 days, the Character Depth ebook will be available exclusively through Amazon.

About the book

IS YOUR CHARACTER REAL TO YOUR READER?

CHARACTER DEPTH brings your character to life, making her real for your reader.

Does your character come to life, bounding off the page and into your readers’ hearts and minds? Or is he flatter than a paper pancake? A well-rounded character is more than a puppet to the whims of the plot. She moves her story forward through her actions and motivations. For a character to truly come to life for your readers, first she must come to life for you as the writer.

Even a well-rounded character can fall flat if we fail to convey her well. Deep point-of-view plays a vital role in showing our character’s depth to readers. Both well-rounded character development and effective writing are necessary to make our character truly come to life for readers.

CHARACTER DEPTH will help you:

  • Create a three-dimensional character from the ground up.
  • Dig into your character to find what makes him tick, and use that to make him come to life.
  • Discover your character’s vital backstory and convey it effectively.
  • Effectively portray your character’s emotions to keep your readers invested in her and her story.
  • Take advantage of deep point-of-view, the most popular POV mode.

Character depth is a fundamental feature of engaging fiction to keep your readers riveted to this book and eagerly anticipating your next.

Make your characters really come to life!

More about Character Depth

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Should authors blog?

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I’ve asked this question for a long time, and over time, my answer has evolved.

Simon and Schuster is supposed to have told their authors that they must blog . . . in 2010. It’s been five years. Internet marketing isn’t on a different plane five years later—basically on a different planet now. I’ve been blogging since 2006. Two. Thousand. Six. Blogging’s simply not as effective as it used to be—not for getting traffic, not for bringing in search engine users, and especially not for sales.

However, you might still want to blog as an author. Why?

The advantages of a blog

A blog still gives you a chance to “own” or “host” the conversation with your fans—if you can get them there. They are already on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., but remember that the content you post and the fanbase you build there could go away in an instant.

A blog gives you a quick and easy website. You might not even use the blog functionality if you’re just using the pages, but it’s good to have the place to stick your latest news as well as the usual, static information you’d want on a website.

Along with that, a blog gives you a place to promote. It’s your homebase where people are less likely to be annoyed or feel like you’re getting in their face to sell to them (versus social media).

HUGE caveat

There is one HUGE caveat: if you are a nonfiction writer, you probably need to blog. It’s the cheapest and perhaps the fastest to way to start your platform, which is super important for publishing whether you’re going indie or traditional. This helps to build your authority and your writing.

Also, it’s way more likely that people will be searching for a nonfiction topic than for “clean spy romance,” so it can be more effective with search engines as well as social media—because which would you rather share: a post with an interview with a character/list of fun facts about an author/pretty pictures of a book’s setting OR an informative post on a topic you’re interested in and that helps you with your life?

The effectiveness of a blog

Have you EVER bought a novel because you read the author’s blog? I don’t mean, “I went to an author’s blog because I liked her other books and there discovered that she has another book out so I bought this book because I was already a fan.” I mean, “I discovered this author through her blog and have purchased novels (or fiction of any length) by her.”

[click through for poll]

I’m a nonfiction author, too, so I’ll keep blogging, mostly focused on that side. I’ll still have announcements about new releases and promotions on the fiction side, and I’ll be using the pages of my site just like any other author would—to highlight good reviews, to share deleted scenes and bonus features, to be the “center” of my promotions—but when it comes to blogging about your fiction? I just don’t see it making a difference to your search engine traffic or your sales. Your mileage may vary—and if it does, great! Come share your story!

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Are you sabotaging your muse?

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I think all writers—all creative people—sometimes struggle with self-doubt. If we don’t defeat the latest bout in a reasonable amount of time, learning and growing and improving or just becoming more confident, sometimes we really start to believe that doubt and buy into its lies. The longer we buy into the lies, the harder it becomes to be creative.

Sound like a vicious cycle? Um, yep.

My husband came across this video and was telling me about it today. As he described it, I immediately likened the story and the moral to the challenge of self-doubt. More on that after the video.

We start off “riding the writing bicycle.” We struggle at first but soon we’re able to write reasonably well. (Granted, the learning curve for writing really well is probably longer than that of learning to ride a bike well. Or maybe it would be more accurate to compare writing for publication to training for Olympic cycling or something. Let’s not push the metaphor, okay?)

But then we turn our creative world backwards. Maybe a bad review or critique sets us off. Maybe we’re disappointed with how we’ve executed a scene. Maybe we get hate mail. Maybe we struggle with our next project. And instead of bouncing back, we buy into this cycle. Everything you know is wrong, backward, unhelpful. You used to be able to do this very simple task and now every step is a stumble. In fact, maybe what you thought was good was actually bad and stupid and so are you.

(Stop talking to yourself like that, okay? Also, stop leaving yourself hate notes in your first drafts about how much it needs revision. It’s a first draft. Of course it needs revision.)

Eventually, we buy into this negative self-talk so much that it becomes our default. We’re riding the backwards bike. And it hurts and feels foreign and everything we know is wrong, so we stop trying to write ride like we used to. The lies we’ve been telling ourselves begin to feel that much more true. We can’t write. We didn’t know what we were doing. We suck.

But because we’re creative people, the desire doesn’t go away—not yet, at least. That flash of inspiration strikes and we have to write.

And it’s hard. And it hurts. And it feels foreign.

This is the moment of truth. We can stay in this rut of self-hate and denigration, or we can keep. Trying.

It’s still hard. It still hurts. It still feels foreign. But as we persevere, there will come a moment when suddenly it clicks back into place—our muse, our skills, our efforts. It’s not as easy as it once was, not at first, but finally we’re moving forward again.

And it feels good again.

So if you’re riding the backwards bicycle right now, stop. If you’re hopping back on the forwards bike, don’t give up yet. And if you haven’t hit the backwards bicycle yet, push through those self-doubts, because they. Are. Lies.

You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like you. And your books.

Keep riding writing.

Good luck.

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Does your story have a plot?

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plot chainEvery story has events. Stuff happens. But a group of events happening to the same people doesn’t necessarily constitute a “plot.” For a story to have a plot, the events must be related through cause-and-effect and build to a climax.

Do stories have to have a climax?

If you’re using a linear story structure, the short answer is yes. If you’re using a linear chronology within your story, the answer is double yes.

plot chain labeled
Most stories use a linear structure as well as a linear timeline—the events of the story occur in chronological order.

However, events merely happening in order doesn’t make a plot. The events must also be linked by cause and effect. For example, as E.M. Forster said,

The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then queen died of grief is a plot.

That little phrase, “of grief,” makes a world of difference. Our brains might fill in the causal link between the events of the first “story,” but that’s actually a logical fallacy (one of my faves: post hoc ergo propter hoc, after this therefore because of this). There could be any number of reasons why a couple might die in succession: perhaps they both had the plague or were hit by falling rocks. (Heck, in this single-sentence story, we don’t even know if the events happened close together!)

“Of grief” links the first and second events as cause and effect; it turns the two from coincident events into connected events. The next event occurs because of the previous one.

cadena rotaWithout this cause and effect link, the events of our story don’t build on one another. They don’t move a story forward. They’re just an account of people doing one thing, then another. At some point, a lack of cause-and-effect gets aggravating, since the events of the story don’t actually have logical relationships. They don’t have anything to do with one another except that they’re happening to the same characters.

Using cause and effect to build to a climax

Another integral part of any linear structure is the ultimate climax. Our plot events must be linked in cause-and-effect chains that build the intensity and stakes to the final, ultimate moment of confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonistic force (external, internal, natural, or any combination of the above).

Cape Disappointment is DisappointingI have read way too many stories that have a series of chronological events that may or may not be causally linked, but that never build to this ultimate moment of the climax. But the climax is indispensable in linear structure. It’s that moment that shows us what our characters are made of, what they’ve learned in our story, how they’ve grown. With the climax, we see the reason why every event in the story was significant. Without a climax, none of them are, and the story just sort of . . . stops. It’s the climax that ultimately gives our story meaning in a linear structure.

But my story jumps around in time.

Awesome! But a nonlinear timeline doesn’t exempt you from the requirements of telling a satisfying story with structure. The vast majority of stories use linear structure, even if they don’t use linear chronology.

Your jumping around in time narrative (time traveling or just nonlinear) can still build toward a climax. Movies like Memento and books such as the Mind Games series by Kiersten White play around with a linear timeline, interspersing scenes from the past. Those scenes from the past build tension and inform—but they don’t get in the way of building to a climax, the final confrontation.

Why structure

Good stories use structure; excellent stories use structure to their advantage. As brilliant author Jennifer Crusie puts it in a blog post that I’ve pondered for years:

Structure isn’t just a way to tell a story, it gives meaning to the story, it informs and intensifies the story, it says “This is what is important here, this is what you need to pay attention to.” Most of the time, most stories need linear structure[.]

Here’s a simple litmus test: if your story isn’t composed of events that are linked by cause-and-effect building to a final confrontation, you may not have a “plot.” Do you need one? If you want to sell commercial fiction and you aren’t a master of alternate story structures, usually.

The good news, however, is that you might be able to revise your way to one! Remember:the best way

Revision is your chance to make the events of your story make sense and carry significance for your character and your readers!

Photo credits: chain—Legozilla, broken chain—Javier, Cape Disappointment—Aaron, map image courtesy of The Journey 1972 (South America “addicted”), all via Flickr/CC

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Celebrate!

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My friend Julie Coulter Bellon is celebrating her fourth blogoversary this month with a massive party and giveaways! And guess what you can win!

SpyAnotherPrequel_BoxSet_LRG

(Did you know that was a thing? It’s a thing!)

You can get an entry for joining my newsletter and another for following me on Twitter.

Julie is offering a ton of other great prizes including ebooks, print books, box sets and an Amazon gift card—but it all ends on May 10th! Go enter the giveaway now!

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