Tag Archive: guest post

Guest Post: 9 Easy Steps to Host a Blog Link-Up

We met today’s guest blogger, Diana Gordon of Part-Time Monster, about three years ago. And we met her through a blog link-up, the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Participating in link-ups (also called blog hops or link parties) is a highly effective blogging tool. It can be the fast-track to building a bigger and better blogging community. But hosting a link-up takes the experience to whole new level. It’s hard work, but so worth it. Running your own link-up offers you a creative and unique way to start a conversation with a central topic or theme, and to share that topic over a collection of participating blogs. Link-ups can be recurring blog features, similar to what Diana does, or a one-time themed blogging event. Although recurring flash fiction link-ups are the most common for author bloggers, single event theme/topic link-ups are growing in popularly. WriteOnSisters will host two single event link-ups later this year, the first one in September. And when we wanted advice about running our event, we turned to Diana, who generously agreed to share her steps for creating a successful link-up. Take it away, Diana!

9 Easy Steps to Host a Blog Link-upHello lovelies! I’m so excited to be hanging out today at WriteOnSisters who have invited me to talk to you guys about starting a link-up!

When I started my blog, Part-Time Monster, it mainly focused on books, monsters, and girls. Personal things I wanted to write about, like being a mother, being a graduate student, and having just moved to an entirely new city, didn’t fit the rest of my content. However, I learned I could start a post with “if we were having coffee” and chat with my readers about all manner of things, letting them peek behind the curtain and allowing me to break the persona of academic writer and write conversationally. My coffee share posts seemed to really click with my readers, and some started to use the idea on their own blogs. I’d accidentally stumbled onto something good for a link-up. Creating Weekend Coffee Share was a big task with a lot of moving parts. So here, dear-hearts, are some things to think about if you want to start your own link-up!

1. Pick a theme, writing prompt or idea:
One of the reasons that the Weekend Coffee Share works so well is that it provides an open-ended prompt that can be responded to in any number of ways and then passed along. Basically, it’s a meme I created for the blogosphere. You can go almost anywhere from “if we were having coffee,” and people have!

2. Establish your timeline:
Think about when and for how long you should keep your link-up open.
This is dependent upon several factors. You’ll want to consider when you get the most traffic and responses, but don’t let that be your only deciding factor. When creating the coffee share, I considered not just that the engagement on Part-Time Monster was higher on the weekends, but also that there were other blogging hashtags and link-ups in play during that time, like #SundayBlogShare, that could be powerful cross-platform partners and participants without competing for attention–something that I wanted to minimize. I also considered my own schedule, knowing that I would have more time to monitor the link-up and share posts on the weekend than during the week. I started the coffee share with just a Saturday/Sunday opening, but as more people started participating from various parts of the globe, I decided to expand it and start on Fridays, thus giving people more time to link-up and share.

3. Give the link-up a name people will remember:
Long or complicated names probably are not going to work. It’s also good for the name of your link-up to tell readers when and what to expect. Top Ten Tuesday (another popular link-up from Broke and Bookish), is a 3-word title that tells participants that the event takes place on Tuesday, and it is indicative of creating a “Top 10” list—exactly what the link-up is designed to do. Weekend Coffee Share is also a 3-word title, indicating to participants we’ll be sharing coffee over the weekend.

4. Create a strong, shareable graphic:
This is one area I wish I’d put more time into when I initiacoffee2lly began the link-up. Graphics have always been my weak point of blogging. My initial coffee share image (to the right) had a few problems—it didn’t have any information about where the link-up took place or on what platforms, for example. I used a stock photo, basic fonts, and a simple free editor, Pixlr, to create this one.

WeekendCoffeeShare logoMy next graphic (to the left) was a bit better in that it included my blog’s current logo and the information that this was a weekly link-up, but it still did not give a web address, and in looking at it now I do not find it that aesthetically pleasing.

GreenCup2I’ve recently created a new graphic (to the right) that includes my web address, more visual interest, and Twitter/Facebook hashtag information. I used Canva and my own photo to create this one, which is something I should’ve done far sooner in the process!

5. Register your Twitter hashtag:
When I was naming the coffee share, I considered whether it would be too long to use as a Twitter hashtag. This is another reason that long, complicated names are not ideal—they make hashtagging hard. Twitter is the strictest with its limits, but other sites limit characters as well. A hashtag that is too long won’t be useful because you won’t be able to send anything more than the hashtag. After you’ve come up with something you like, search Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites where hashtags are in use. See what, if any, content is already being shared under the hashtag you’re considering. If the hashtag is already crowded, you’re probably not going to want to use it because you will not stand out. Once you’ve nailed down what your hashtag is going to be, you can use a site like Twubs to register that tag. (That doesn’t mean others can’t use the tag, of course, but it is a way of claiming ownership.) Even if you decide not to register your hashtag, you should still use it as much as possible and encourage others to use it when they are discussing or participating in the link-up.

6. Now you’ll need to choose a linky list generator:
This will make it possible for users to add their posts to the link-up without crowding your comments section with links. I use InLinkz for the weekend coffee share, but there are some other tools available too, like Simply Linked. Some of these sites, such as Inlinkz, have options for free or paid accounts, so you’ll want to consider how much you’re going to invest in the link-up and whether a paid account is worth your investment.

7. Compile a list of questions and comments for a Link-up page.
This page gives participants (and anyone who wants to write about your link-up!) a place to link to as well as well as answers their frequently asked questions.

8. You’re ready to write an introductory post and get started!
You can see my first post here, in which I introduced myself and the link-up. Make sure you engage with your participants’ posts. Leave them comments, thank them for joining up, and share their posts far and wide. This will create a sense of community and encourage bloggers to return to your link-up.

9. Lastly—have FUN!
A link-up can be hard work, but it should also be fun. If it isn’t fun for you, it’s not going to be fun for anyone else, either.

My Weekend Coffee Share link-up officially started in January of 2015, so it just hit its year-and-a-half-old birthday. The coffee share community amazes and surprises me with their honesty and tenacity, and the link-up has been featured on The Daily Post and regularly has between 35 and 50 blogs participating.

I wish you all good luck and a successful link-up!

*****
IMG_20150210_143557Diana Gordon is a writer and researcher specializing in nonprofit work and pop culture analysis. She spends her free time running the blog Part-Time Monster, where she writes about feminism, motherhood, living life as a liberal in the conservative American South, and monsters of all sorts, including herself. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, son, and a rambunctious rescue terrier aptly named Tank. You can follow her on Twitter @parttimemonster.

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Guest Post: General Leia — Aging on the Silver Screen

General LeiaOur guest today has been here several times before. Most recently she blogged about writing Wise Women Characters, a must-read post if you want to find some fresh ways to show women as strong, without making them fighters. She also invited us to take part in her fabulous SciFi Women Interview series early this year. She is a scholar with a broad background in gender and media. Her extensive research into the depiction of underrepresented characters in the Star Wars universe sparked a whole book: A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars and it’s available from Amazon. Please welcome Natacha Guyot.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS featured the main trio from the original saga trilogy, including Leia Organa. While it made complete sense to include her, seeing an older female SciFi character on screen isn’t common. An older Leia Organa in the new movie was thus a strong choice, and might help attitudes change regarding women characters in films and television. Indeed, the “youth at all cost” can be damaging societally speaking, when on the contrary, people should be embracing all ages for all genders in terms of representation. The fact that backlash occurred against Leia’s older figure shows that there is still room for people to accept something as natural as women aging and still being capable of great professional and personal accomplishments.

Like in her younger days, Leia Organa held a significant position in Episode VII’s narrative and continued to be a leader figure, which was refreshing. Yet, I refuse to say that “General Leia” is better than “Princess Leia” because I believe that both titles had validity in the universe and nobility title, including “princess” shouldn’t diminish a character’s credibility nor should be considered “girly” in a bad way. Leia has inspired many people for years because she was more than a “pretty girl who could shoot a gun”. She was a leader from the start and had great strength beyond her physical resilience.

While the presence of older women isn’t widely spread, including in Star Wars, small roles, some important regardless of limited screen time, have appeared in the Star Wars movies since the very first one, A NEW HOPE, released in 1977. In it, Beru Lars raised her nephew Luke Skywalker. This maternal figure soon gets killed along with her husband, to allow Luke to begin his journey. In RETURN OF THE JEDI, political and Rebellion leader Mon Mothma partakes in a crucial briefing, along with male military counterparts.

The Prequels also included a few older women in supporting or minor roles, mostly mother and Jedi figures. The latter case is Jedi Archivist Jocasta Nu in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Where male elder mentors are included in all trilogies so far with characters such Obi Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke Skywalker, women are still to occupy such positions. In that, Jocasta Nu, who briefly showed up again in the CLONE WARS series, is an exception.

In THE FORCE AWAKENS, Leia Organa has a multi-faceted representation, which shows actual care to her character from the movie’s script writers. Due to that, she ties all the previously included threads of older female characters in the saga’s films. Her portrayal encompasses both the professional aspect, respecting her as a political leader as a General in the Resistance, and the personal. In the latter case, the narrative gives her space to be a (former) romantic partner with Han Solo, where the relationship still has great depth, no matter the longtime separation. She is also a mother who struggles with what her son has become, but still has undying faith in his return to the Light Side. The same way, she is a sister who seeks to find her brother Luke and bring him back to help in the fight against evil forces.

By allying professional and personal, the story gives Leia the possibility to show how she has developed off-screen over the decades. Despite struggles of all kinds, she continues to fight for what she believes in, including when it requires her coming to the battlefield. When she first appears in the movie, after several mentions from multiple characters, it is at the end of a fight, where she came aboard one of the crafts, even at the risk of being shot down in the process.

A final point that was thankfully not ignored was her Force potential. While she isn’t presented as an actual Jedi, and any training she might have received or not is left unknown, she still remains able to sense strongly for her loved ones. THE FORCE AWAKENS picks up from when she reacted twice to her twin brother’s situation through the Force in the Original Trilogy. Indeed, a shot clearly shows her shattered when she feels Han’s death. While a very brief moment, it is significant to see Leia’s potential and skills acknowledged during such a pivotal event.

In the end, the Star Wars movies have included older women in most of them, though until THE FORCE AWAKENS none has had as much screen time as Leia Organa. There is still progress to be made, but here is to hoping that Leia’s influence will continue to bear fruits, not only in her portrayal in the upcoming movies, but also more generally speaking, so that older women may still be valued in narratives of different genres and formats.

 

Guest Blog PhotoAuthor’s BioGalaxy - Revised Cover
Natacha Guyot is a French researcher, author and public speaker. She holds two Master’s degrees: Film and Media Studies (Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Digital Culture and Technology (King’s College London).
Her main fields of interest are Science fiction, Gender Studies, Children Media and Fan Studies. Besides her nonfiction work, she also writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.
Natacha’s Blog | TwitterFacebook | Goodreads | LinkedIn

 

 

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Guest Post: Writing Sci-Fi

SciFi PostToday we bring back one of our favorite guest bloggers, Cindy McCraw Dircks. We first met Cindy about three years ago and it has been a pleasure to watch her journey from first draft to newly agented writer. It’s extra special for Robin since she was an early beta reader on the very project that landed Cindy her agent. She also has the distinction of being the writer with the most interesting resume we have ever read. (See below)

Please welcome Cindy.

I love sci-fi. As a daughter of diehard Trekkies from Mississippi, I’ve always held Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk on par with Elvis. The only thing I love as much as sci-fi (and Elvis) is the act of writing and reading all kinds of books. Recently I signed with an agent to champion my first novel, and that first novel (no surprise here!) involves aliens from another galaxy. Still, writing a sci-fi book was scary for me. I mean, where to begin when there are so many things in the universe to write about?

So, based on my experience, here are some select tips for writing sci-fi:

1. Define Your Setting: Tatooine Or Closer To Home?
First off, kudos to those who can create their own world from scratch. No greater feat known to man! But personally speaking (and despite my secret wish to be a Jedi) I’d rather not create my own world. My favorite movies from my childhood, teenhood and young-adulthood were: ET, STARMAN, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and STAR TREK 4 (You know—the one where Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, et al, time travel back to 1984 Earth to save our planet by saving whales?). Just last night while watching TV and riding the exercise bike in the basement, l swelled with pride when Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith saved humans from total annihilation in INDEPENDENCE DAY.
I recall these particular sci-fi movies because they brought space to me. To modern day Earth. These movies created situations in which regular everyday people are forced to deal with the extraordinary. So, earth-bound space movie faves in mind, I set about writing Wayne and Emmy Learn to Breathe, in which an agoraphobic Mississippi-boy who won’t leave home falls for a rebellious girl from another galaxy.

2. Love Movies As Much As I Obviously Do? Then Act Like You’re Writing One!
A well-established agent once explained this to me during her Writers Digest Webinar. Easy visualization is key especially in sci-fi and thrillers. Sci-fi books, albeit all books, are more rich with detail than even the best sci-fi movie could ever be. But a 120 page script has the same story arc as an 800 page epic, just obviously more compact.

3. If On Earth—Where On Earth?
I’m from Hattiesburg, MS, and to my knowledge, no one has ever written about an alien hanging out there before. Sure, there are fewer buildings to blow up than there are in NYC. Or at least way fewer big ones. In my story a teen alien girl steals her parent’s pod and crash lands on a Mississippi pine-tree farm. Since she breathes only carbon dioxide, and she’s surrounded by fresh air, she’s instantly in big trouble.

4. Decide Your Brand Of Sci-fi, Hard or Soft?
I personally veer towards hard sci-fi, meaning I like technical accuracy as much as possible. I think what helps make sci-fi accessible is embedding it in reality. That takes research. I based everything that happens in my book on fact or scientifically accepted theory, thus hard sci-fi. I read articles by Stephen Hawking regarding wormholes. I read papers written on Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world-wide-web. I researched Michio Kaku (American futurist and theoretical physicist), who made interstellar travel seem so possible and even read up on Newton’s laws of relativity so that I knew what high school lessons could tie into what was happening to my main character. And go ahead. Ask me anything about sources of carbon dioxide! I know them all…

5. What Does Your Alien Look Like? And Why?
Anatomy! Folks always want to know what makes an alien different. What makes them tick. Why do their eyelids open and close that way? For my story to work, my alien, Emmy, needed to blend in and look human. I put almost all of Emmy’s differences on the inside, and absolutely everything different about her factors into my plot. Emmy crash-lands near the farm of my protagonist, Wayne, who thinks she’s pretty hot–even though Emmy’s an alien. One day when this book gets made into a movie (dare to dream), the studio will save butt-loads on make up.

6. Okay! Done With Your Completed Sci-Fi Masterpiece? Now Find Those Professionals Who Will Totally Love It, Too!
I attended many beneficial and informative conferences once I completed my first draft of my first book (NY & NJ SCBWI, Writers Digest, Women Who Write, etc.) and met a cast of seasoned professionals who never held back on describing their slush piles–from too few of one genre to too much of another. I familiarized myself with agents and editors on Twitter, scanned Publisher’s Marketplace on a daily basis, and checked out more publishing blogs than you could shake a tribble at. Eventually, all this field work paid off for me. Thus, it couldn’t be more important to find, research and target those who are specifically looking for your work.

Although popular genres tend to run in cycles, aliens never go out of style. At least not yet. Humans have been interested in space and science in one form or another for centuries. Life on other planets remains an immediate possibility, and resonates with readers who press Star Trek-style-handhelds to their ears like they’re begging to be beamed up! I cherish the thought that we’re not alone, and agree wholeheartedly with this quote from Carl Sagan’s CONTACT:
The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

The truth is out there, but until we find that truth, let’s fictionalize it!

 

 

CindyCindy McCraw Dircks began her publishing and media career as a “go-for” at Playboy Enterprises and peaked as a production coordinator at Sesame Workshop. She took a hiatus to raise three fantastic children, who are now her biggest story critics. Cindy was selected to participate in the #publishyoself program with the Children’s Media Association and was featured in their collaborative Middle Grade ebook released in April 2015. Now, she’s repped by Sarah Crowe at Harvey Klinger and is focused on her fourth YA novel (a modern day retelling of a total classic), and looking to meet that perfect editor one day. Connect with Cindy on Twitter at @mcdircks, on Goodreads, Linkedin or her website: www.cindymccrawdircks.com.

 

 

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Guest Post: High Fantasy Vs. Epic Fantasy

Welcome guest blogger Sara Letourneau! We connected with Sara on Twitter and through the many places she blogs (see bio below). Sara is super friendly, upbeat and knowledgeable, especially about writing fantasy, so we’re thrilled to have her here today to shed some light on the differences and similarities between high fantasy and epic fantasy. Take it away Sara!

Wands Vs SwordsFantasy literature can be challenging to navigate. Its sheer number of subgenres – and the increasingly blurry lines between them – has the potential to overwhelm even long-time enthusiasts. However, once one understands the subtle differences between these subgenres, it can lead to “a-ha” moments for readers and writers alike.

So, how does high fantasy differ from epic fantasy? When are you more apt to see wizards or warriors, magic wands or swords? And which classic stories are considered high, epic, or both? Let me light a torch and illuminate them for you…

What Is High Fantasy?

In truth, high fantasy isn’t a subgenre, but a classification of the amount of fantastical elements present in a story. With high fantasy, the world is comprised of strange or mythical aspects not found on Earth. Cultural, political, and other types of rules might also differ from those we’re used to. In other words, the more removed the story world is from the “real world” we know, the more likely its story would be called high fantasy. (FYI: The opposite classification is low fantasy, which is set in a more Earth-oriented or recognizable setting, and allows the fantastical and “real world” elements to interact more often.)

The defining element of high fantasy is its setting. Regardless of the time period (past, present, or future), the story’s world must be a “secondary” world, or an imaginary setting created by the writer.

From there, high fantasy can include any (but not necessarily all) of the following elements:
· Magic or sorcery, either with a system of rules (“hard” magic) or a more mysterious, nebulous presence (“soft” magic).
· Invented languages, either included in the text or implied in the narrative.
· Fictional humanoid races such as elves / fairies, angels, or merfolk.
· Mythical creatures such as dragons, griffins, or anthropomorphic animals.
· In some cases, the ability to travel between the real / primary world and the imaginary / secondary world (e.g., portals, rules allowing select characters to make the journey).

NarniaC.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA is a superb example of high fantasy. Narnia teems with fictional beings, including talking animals (most notably the lion Aslan), dwarfs, unicorns, gnomes, and creatures from Greek mythology. Magic also abounds here, with the ability to thwart the rules of nature for good or evil. For instance, Queen Jadis (a.k.a. the White Witch) condemned Narnia to an eternal winter that thaws with Aslan’s return.

Narnia’s most enchanting element, however, is its portals. From train stations (Prince Caspian) and paintings (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), to literature’s most famous wardrobe, numerous gateways allow children like the Pevensie siblings to travel between Earth and Narnia. This emphasizes the separation between the real world and fantasy, while thrilling its readership with the idea that a magical world could be only a closed door away.

Other Examples: Ursula K. Le Guin’s EARTHSEA CYCLE, Patrick Rothfuss’s KINGKILLER CHRONICLES, Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy.

What Is Epic Fantasy?

One of fantasy’s most popular and timeless subgenres is epic fantasy. It combines history and legend to tell a tale that excites and entertains. Sometimes it involves a quest. Other times, it focuses on politics or war. Whatever the plot may be, epic fantasy is always massive in length (usually over 100,000 words, though 120,000+ words isn’t rare) and scope.

In fact, scope is what sets epic fantasy apart from other subgenres. The main focus is the plot, allowing the writer to show how the conflict impacts the story world at large. Also, older epic fantasies tend to exhibit a clear-cut “good versus evil” theme, while more recently published examples often explore moral ambiguity through realistic, complex characters with competing motivations.

Other defining aspects of epic fantasy are:
· A story world in a medieval or historical setting, and can be either invented by the writer or based on real cultures and places.
· A large cast of characters, either with a single protagonist or multiple points of view.
· A reliance on subplots to help advance the story, leading to a complex overall plot.
· Action using swords, archery, and other weaponry that is sometimes violent or graphic in nature.

georger.r.martin-asongoficeandfireDid anyone think of George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF FIRE AND ICE saga while reading this list? Both the books and its hugely popular TV adaptation Game of Thrones epitomize epic fantasy. Set in the fictional medieval world of Westeros, this series offers a panoramic view of power struggles between several families, with threats from an exiled princess and supernatural forces on other fronts. It’s intricately plotted, brutally bloody, and mammoth in scale and cast size – and the stakes keep mounting with each book and season.

While Game of Thrones’ subgenre is clear, fans have debated its classification (high fantasy vs low fantasy) for years. Personally, I’d say Game of Thrones is low fantasy. Sure, you’ll find dragons, ice zombies (a.k.a. White Walkers), and religious figures who use magic for prophesying or resurrections. However, Martin’s intent with the books was to create a realistic world that focused less on the supernatural and more on characters, war, and politics. The result is a post-magic society where people no longer believe in mythic forces and beings – until proven otherwise. This skepticism is also reflected in the TV show.

Other Examples: Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series, Terry Goodkind’s SWORD OF TRUTH series, Robin Hobb’s FARSEER trilogy.

So… Can a Story Be Both High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy?

Why not? We distinguished Game of Thrones by both subgenre (epic fantasy) and “fantastical” classification (low fantasy). The same can be done for other fantasy stories. So, it’s entirely possible for a novel to be both high and epic fantasy.

LOTR Cover

And what better example is there than J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS? In fact, anything from his Middle-Earth legendarium could be called epic high fantasy. This beloved secondary world features magic, numerous fictional species (wizards, hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs) and creatures (dragons, giant spiders, demons), and invented languages. And with The Lord of the Rings in particular, Tolkien uses multiple points of view to tell of the quest and battles fought in order for unlikely allies to destroy The One Ring. See how many boxes we ticked off for both types of fantasy?

 

Remember: The main keys of high fantasy are an invented world and a high number of supernatural or fantastical elements. For epic fantasy, it’s all about a long-ago setting and a scale of, well, epic proportions. They won’t always collide during a single story – but when they do, the results can be magical and magnificent.

What are some of your favorite fantasy subgenres? How about some of your favorite stories that demonstrate high or epic fantasy, or both?

sara-2015_full_med

 

 

Sara Letourneau is a Massachusetts-based writer who practices joy and versatility in her work. In addition to revising a YA fantasy novel, she reviews tea at A Bibliophile’s Reverie and contributes to the writing resource site DIY MFA. Her poetry has been published in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two anthologies. Learn more about Sara at her website / blog, Twitter, and Goodreads.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/guest-post-high-fantasy-vs-epic-fantasy-recognizing-when-a-story-fits-both/

Guest Post: Advice from a Slush Pile Reader

Welcome guest blogger Alex Hurst! As a slush reader for a Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine, Alex has first hand experience getting stories out of the slush pile and into the hands of editors. And today she’s going to share what makes her recommend stories and what makes her pass…

Slush PileI have been a slush reader for a while now. I read for the semi-pro SFF magazine Fantasy Scroll Mag, and I love my work there. I read 10 to 20 submissions a week, and I probably flat out reject all but a handful every month. The reasons why are numerous: the author failed to check our magazine’s genres before submitting, I’ve read (and accepted) far too many stories with similar characters and theme (yes, zombies and vampires are still a hard sell), the story was not well-edited, etc.

While I don’t want to go on a tangent regarding the last, I will say this: some authors post that editing should not matter as much as it does, because, well, the publisher has editors for a reason. And yes, on the very, very rare occasion I read a story that is absolutely fantastic, sans some editing concerns, I still pass it on to my editor because the value of the story makes up for its structural woes. However, most markets are competitive and most (proper) markets pay you by the word. They want to be paying for good, polished words. Not second or third drafts.

A story with typos, syntax errors, and improper capitalization, among other things, gives slush readers huge red flags. Fantasy Scroll Mag prides itself on reading submissions all the way through, even when we’re pretty sure of our decision by the end of page one, but not every market has that luxury. Reading a story takes time, and especially for short fiction markets, the moment our mind starts thinking about how much longer it will take to finish reading, the “reject” has occurred.

In short, the old adage that your story’s first sentence, first paragraph, and first page are the most important elements is true. You typically have one page to convince a slush reader to keep reading. But that, alone, is not enough to get a slush reader to slap a “YAY” on your manuscript.

Here are four things that I’ve come to understand, as a slush reader, make the difference between the stories that end up in my reject pile, and those that I happily send off to my editor.

4 tips to get your story in the YES pile

1) AUTHOR VOICE MATTERS

This is, by far, the most common form of criticism that pops up in slush reader comments, but I think a lot of authors have trouble understanding what this really means.

The greatest writers that the world knows (Poe, Tolkein, Fitzgerald, King, Gaiman, etc.) all have one thing in common: their writing is recognizable. These writers employ cadence, alliteration, and deliberate vocabulary, elevating the act of reading until it is in and of itself part of the story experience.

Think of the litany of teachers, speakers, politicians, actors, and news anchors you have listened to in your lifetime. Think of that uncle of yours who has practiced telling his best stories so many times that, though embellished, you can’t help but listen all over again. Think of the greatest of those orators, and what made them great, or what made them… not. Apply that to your own writing.

If you can harness your own voice, and use it consistently throughout your work, nine times out of ten, any slush reader looking at your work is going to stay glued to the page until the very end. 

2) CHARACTER OVER PLOT

There is a modern trend in fiction that has, to an extent, abandoned the concept of the great epic. Long, drawn-out stories of battles and moral wars and the thousand deeds of Hero of the Year are out of style. Readers want to get up close and personal with the soul. This is true of any genre. Character is king.

This means that readers need to care about your character before the stakes are raised. The edgy hook that throws the reader into a moment of high tension at the very beginning (more on that in a moment) is starting to lose its effectiveness on slush readers, who, due to the style of reading required by the job, must read, not for casual enjoyment, but critically, straight from the outset.

Character development is particularly important and tricky. Character development is not simply getting Sally from Point A to Point B. It involves exposing her true nature by putting her in situations that she never would have been in before the start of the book and showing the reader what happens when she fails (more on that later, too). Strong characters equal strong story. Think of the characters in Catch Me if You Can––the plot is simple. It has been done a million different ways in a hundred different genres. But it is the characters, especially Frank and Hanratty, who carry the movie. It became more than a chase scene. More than a blue-collar James Bond. The film was alive with their juxtapositions and banter.

Go deeper with your characters. Make sure they are real people. Do that, and the plot might not even matter. The same can’t be said going the other way.

3) HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER

“The Hook” has been a long-time favorite device among authors to skip the boring preamble of a book and get straight to the action. It, on its own, is actually very effective. Most Hollywood movies use it to great effect––the audience’s heart rate starts pumping and excitement fills their veins… problem is, it’s been used to death in fiction, especially short fiction.

Some stories can still get away with using The Hook. I’m not advocating for the complete avoidance of it (and any advice that tells you to always or never do something should be taken with a grain of salt anyway), but I would caution authors to take care. The Hook can be very effective as long as the tension introduced is maintained for the rest of the story. Using a hook to draw the reader in, only to follow it up with a page or more of backstory, exposition, or flashbacks, kills any tension the opening provides, and for me, it’s generally hard to drum up the same level of energy again. Yes, your opening needs to be strong. But it’s also just the starting line. Tension should rise toward a climax in Western storytelling. Don’t fire all your pistons at once.

4) CONFLICT OF DISINTEREST

Finally, I want to talk about conflict: the thing that turns a room full of characters and the events in their world into a story. Conflicts come in all sizes and all complexities, but you’d better make sure your story actually has one, and you’d better make sure that your central characters have a crucial part to play in it. If all of your major conflict is happening, or worse, being resolved, off-screen, slush readers are going to wonder why they’re even reading about Axe Warrior Kraven at all. Character is king, but conflict proves his mettle.

It seems impossible, to some, to imagine a story where there is no conflict. But conflict also needs to match the length of the story in question. A 500-word story is going to have a simplistic conflict by necessity. A 80,000-word novel could not retain that same conflict, without adding an intense amount of complexity. As well, a story may have conflict, but it isn’t compelling or believable. Frank dropping his ice cream cone isn’t exactly compelling, but it could work for a flash fiction, if the author’s voice and character building are superb. A woman busting into a man’s life with the answers to all of his problems and the faults of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl isn’t really believable, and besides, if she never stumbles, there’s no conflict anyway, right? (No, his reluctance to commit isn’t really a conflict, either.)

Make sure that your characters are responding to the conflict stimulus in genuine, meaningful ways. Make sure they are in on the action. Make sure they need to be there to make the story work.

I’ll be honest with you. You don’t have to harness all four of these things to make your story work. But at the end of the day, my editor only allows me to give him one of three words: Yes, No, or Maybe.

One word to encapsulate all of your blood, sweat, and tears.

I can say “Maybe. This story was amazing, but the prose (author voice) never really drew me in.” Or I can say “Yes. I loved every word of this. The characters were believable and the story (conflict) kept me guessing. So well-written (author voice)! I couldn’t put it down until the end (not just a “Hook”).” Which one would you choose to spend your time on, as an editor with a limited budget and a maximum number of words to fill?

 

portrait-ii-version-3Alex Hurst was raised in the wilds of the south. Lightning storms and hurricanes created the playpens of her youth, and in the summers, she used to spend all of her time dodging horseflies in a golden river, catching fish and snakes with her bare hands, swinging from vines, and falling out of magnolia trees. These days, she tends to move a lot, and is currently on her way to Vancouver from Kyoto.

Alex writes primarily character-driven fantasy, when she’s not slush reading for Fantasy Scroll Mag. When it comes to fiction, Alex loves realistic characters in unreal worlds, high stakes and meaningful reflections on what it means to be human (or nonhuman).

Visit her at alex-hurst.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/slush-pile-reader-tips/

How Local Culture Inspires Worldbuilding

Today’s Guest Post is by Rose B. Fischer. We first met Rose about a year ago and were instantly impressed with her creativity and willingness to lend a hand to her fellow writers and bloggers. Her kindness is teamed with a great sense of humor, making her a delightful person to know and a fun writer to read. She has developed a unique approach to worldbuilding, and it’s so helpful that we invited her here to share it…

Map for Rose

Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of genre fiction. I spent about three years building the world of Synn before I started writing my serial. There’s so much potential with a new world, so many factors to consider — from physical setting concerns like geology, climate, flora and fauna, to politics and culture. It can be overwhelming, and there’s a tendency to get carried away. I’ve read books that felt like the author was just grabbing bits and bobs of every ethnic or social group they could think of and mashing it all together rather than creating a unique, cohesive setting. While there’s nothing wrong with using elements of real world cultures, there needs to be something that grounds your setting and makes it feel like a world rather than a hodgepodge of Earth cultures. My favorite grounding technique is to adapt my own local culture and New Hampshire history and weave it into my fictional settings.

Here are four aspects of local culture that inspire worldbuilding:

Industry — Textile and paper mills built New England on the backs of its poor. There’s no pretty way to say it. Everywhere you look in New Hampshire’s cities, you see huge red brick complexes that can take up both sides of a street. When I was a kid, I thought they were fortresses or mazes. Walking around the mills is like being enclosed in a medieval castle or dystopian city-state. People came to the mills from farms and rural logging communities looking for opportunity. The mills gave them company-owned homes, accounts at a company store, and demanded grueling work days with little to no time for eating or socializing. In exchange, the workers got meager wages that were garnished to pay back their company credit accounts and exorbitant rent. But the cities exploded because the mills produced. The region prospered. Fashions changed. Storebought clothes became commonplace, and fabric to make clothing became less expensive and more varied. Water-power and river trade flourished and because of the mills.

Reddish_Mill_1

The textile mills were dependent on Southern cotton, though. Both paper and textiles relied on coal, needed export and were hindered by taxation.

I love the mills, I love their aesthetic, but it’s important for me to remember their history in my fiction. I could go on about them for a long time, but the point is, there’s a lot you can add to a story by looking at the implications (both positive and negative) of a local industry. Industry affects architecture, clothing, politics, physical growth of the setting, and so much more. Whether you’re writing a tale that takes place on one planet or a space opera that spans twenty, places have industry, and all local or regional industries depend on other areas for support. Those things don’t have to be major plot elements, but they have a wealth of potential when layered into a story.

Regional rivalries — Trees are big business in New Hampshire and Vermont. I’ve mentioned the paper mills, but we also have a large timber industry, fall tourism driven by leaf-peepers, commercial orchards, and a huge maple sugar/syrup trade. Winter sports and activities related to snow are the other part of our tourism industry. We compete with Vermont for that too. Rivalry for tourism and export dollars can be intense even in the present, but in historical times led to some serious, bitter conflict. Rivalries around resources like this are a great source of conflict for everything from science fiction and fantasy where the scale is huge, all the way to romance where it’s more personal. The key is to weave in specifics about those resources. Try to avoid “black and white” situations where one side is clearly corrupt and the other is taken advantage of.

Folklore and Local Heroes — Our state website has an archive of books about New Hampshire folklore and legends. I’ve been familiar with most of those stories since elementary school, but many of my friends in other parts of the country have never heard of them. Either way, adapting your local folklore to a fantasy or science fiction setting is a fantastic way to add depth to your setting.

Mill_Building_(now_museum),_Lowell,_Massachusetts

Culture and Subculture — Woodworking and artisan crafts related to wood are a big deal in NH. It’s a coastal state, so commercial fishing and lobstering are also prominent. The Abenaki Nation and Pennacook Tribe are part of the state’s history and culture. Because we’re close to Quebec, we have a big French Canadian population. There’s a large state university system, big cities with crime and population problems, hiking and climbing trails that attract adventurers, and rural areas where people live much as they did a century ago. I’ve written before about bike week in Laconia and how biker subculture plays a part in my life and my writing. This section is starting to sound like a travel brochure, but if you take the time to notice and learn about the place you live, I bet you’ll find a lot to add depth to your fiction!

On the surface, my worlds look nothing like New Hampshire, but because I understand the history and culture of my state and the surrounding region, I can extrapolate at a conceptual level to create a society with built-in problems for my characters to wrestle with. So many writers look far and wide for exotic cultures to build their worlds around, but end up with bland, boring books with “cultures” that feel like window dressing. If you live somewhere for a long time, it might look dull and uninteresting to you, yet to someone else it may be just the thing that helps your story feel alive and unique.

 

rosewinkpngfoxRose B. Fischer:
Rose is an avid fan of foxes, Stargate: SG-1, and Star Trek. She would rather be on the Enterprise right now. Since she can’t be a Starfleet Officer, she became a speculative fiction author whose stories feature women who defy cultural stereotypes. In her worlds gender is often fluid, sexuality exists on a spectrum, and “disability” does not define an individual. Her current project is The Foxes of Synn, a low-tech science fantasy serial.
She is a survivor of domestic violence who lives with multiple disabilities. In the early 2000s, she became homeless after leaving her abusive spouse. She later entered a transitional housing program while attending college. These experiences inspired her to begin writing non-fiction, and have had lasting impacts on her approach to fiction writing. She publishes science fiction, science fantasy, horror, and biographical essays. She blogs about the intersection of storytelling, social responsibility, art, and pop culture at rosebfischer.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/research/how-local-culture-inspires-worldbuilding/

How to Write LGBT+ Characters

Join us in welcoming guest blogger, Hannah Givens. We met Hannah through another mutual blogger friend over a year ago and we fell in love with her super intelligent and pop culture rich blog,Things Matter. We asked her here today to talk about an important and seldom addressed topic: how to write sensitive and realistic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters.This is a subject we knew almost nothing about, but we wanted to know more, and thought our readers would too.

Please give a warm Write On Sisters welcome to Hannah!

Pride Flag With Text

So, you want to write a queer character? Great! Your fiction will be more realistic, and your audience will thank you for your respect. Of course, it can be challenging to write outside your comfort zone, but it’s definitely not impossible.

For our purposes, your writing will fall into one of three categories, and your approach will vary slightly depending on the category.

1) Historical Fiction
As with any kind of historical fiction, research is your friend. How did people live during your time period? If someone didn’t want a traditional marriage or a traditional gender role, what other options were available? In ancient history, the culture might be open to male homosexuality but not female, or open to all homosexuality as long as all parties went home to their opposite-sex partners at the end of the day. Other cultures and time periods were less hospitable, and people had to find creative ways to break taboos. What code words and signals would a gay man use to meet other men in the 1900s versus the 1950s?
The most important thing to remember is that queer people have existed in every time and place, you just have to find them. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom either, even if you’re dealing with a restrictive time period. Queer people can make their own happy endings, if that’s what your story needs — look at Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, a lesbian couple in early-1800s America who lived in a de facto marriage for 44 years. It can happen.

2) Contemporary Fiction
With a story set in the present, research is still your friend, but in this case you’re fortunate to have all the primary sources you could possibly want! Talk to people, read blogs, read books, find out what it’s like. Use resources like the Diversity Cross Check tumblr to locate people willing to answer questions.
We’re in a transitional phase at the moment where homosexuality is becoming commonplace, but we’re not stopping there. People are exploring all kinds of new identities and understandings. Labels are many, varied, and personal. As a writer, terminology is something to treat with great care, keeping your character’s personality and backstory in mind. Some people are accustomed to the word “queer” being derogatory, and would never apply it to themselves. Others, like me, use the term as a general catchall for LGBTQQIA+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Asexual and more.) People fall onto a whole gender spectrum far beyond male/female, and they have any number of pronouns to go with those identities. As a writer, if you’re not sure you’re using a term correctly or representing an identity accurately, hold off on that using it or presenting that character until you’re confident.
The most important thing here is that a queer person is probably not thinking about their queerness every second of the day. It’s totally fine to write an “issues” book or a coming-out novel, but don’t be limited by that — queerness doesn’t have to be the plot!

3) Science Fiction/Fantasy
In these genres, it’s totally up to you! You don’t have to worry about what it was “really” like in some other time period, you can design your world any way you want. If your story is based on Earth or is meant to be a human future, then modern issues might be an influence. If not, or if you’re far enough into the future, you have free reign to create not just characters but whole societies. This can be especially interesting if you want to explore different ideas of gender, like in the recent award-winning Ancillary series by Ann Leckie.
As with terminology, you’ll want to be reasonably secure in your point of view to avoid accidentally creating a world with unfortunate implications that will reflect back on you as an author. That’s easy to do even for the most well-meaning of creators. I’m not trying to scare you off, though. The most important thing here, and really with any genre, is to have the queer characters! Even if they aren’t central, you can still reference how queer people fit into the society you’ve created. If they’re totally nonexistent, if there’s no place for them at all, then I’ve got news for you… You’re writing a dystopia!

One More Most-Important Thing
Including the queer characters really is the most-est important, even if you make mistakes. In most circumstances and for most stories, you’ll write a queer character just like any other. But if you’re having trouble, or you feel like your research is getting the better of you, it never hurts to try things the other way around: Look at your existing lineup and try some experiments. What would happen if your POV character came out? Could one of your characters be transgender? At the least you’ll get some good practice in conceiving fully-formed queer people, and while you’re doing that, you may find your characters are already queerer than you thought!

Hannah GivensGuest Blogger: Hannah Givens is a history and museum studies student in the Deep South. She blogs about history, pop culture, sci-fi writing, and queer issues of all kinds. She is also the founder of the twitter hashtag, #queerpop, and a member of the Non-Binary Book Club. Find her at Thing Matter, or on Twitter with @HannahEGivens.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/how-to-write-lgbt-characters/

Do Your Characters have Character?

ShawnGriffithToday we bring you a guest post from one of our newer blogging friends, Shawn Griffith. Shawn runs a blog called Down Home Thoughts, and his site is packed with old-fashioned wit and wisdom. He’s on WriteOnSisters to talk about character, a topic near and dear to his heart. In fact he’s conducting a survey on character over at his blog. Make sure you head over there next and lend him your own down home thoughts on what character means to you. 

When outlining your main characters, you think about their purpose in the story, you contemplate various names, physical traits, habits, etc., but do you think about their character? By character, I mean those traits that make up how an individual, in this case, your character, reacts to the ups and downs that life (or an author) throws at them. Traits like the ones described in the Knight’s Chivalric Code; honesty, self-discipline, courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, nobility, and hope are great examples. Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics is also an example of a fictional code. The First Law states that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” What kind of character do your characters have?

WriteOnSisters.com

Do Your Characters Have Character?

I believe that having a code of conduct for your characters helps make the decisions about how they respond in difficult situations a bit easier. It’s a good idea to keep your traits general at first. You can expand on the traits as needed. Since character is not easy to define due to its complexity, you should focus on no more than three or four attributes per group of beings. We’ve all heard the saying that actions speak louder than words. A character’s true personality or character will show in their actions. This is why knowing your character’s character is important. If you struggle with defining a set of social norms, the 5 questions below can help you develop your own social code for particular group.

5 Questions To Develop a Social Code
1. Is there a driving central theme or passion for this group? Klingon’s love battle and value honor above all else.
2. Are there specific traits you need this group to have (or lack) for your story to work? Orcs in Lord of the Ring are utterly bloodthirsty and destructive.
3. Are there traits you want to emphasize/de-emphasize? You have a culture that respects property very highly and your main character is kleptomaniac.
4. Do you need a society’s character to change in the course of the story? The peace loving Ewoks in Star Wars are forced to fight for their home with the rebels.
5. Does your society have a central character flaw or strength? Asimov’s Foundation has the planet Trantor where conformity, obedience and acceptance are expected.

Once the societal norm is established, look at the main characters and decide what are their strengths and weaknesses according to this norm. Use these questions as a starting point for laying a framework for your character’s character.

5 Questions for Character
1. What drives or compels them to do what they do?
2. What are their character strengths?
3. What are their weaknesses?
4. What is important to them?
5. What are they willing to die for?

Hopefully these questions have made you think about character in a new light and perhaps even the effect of that character’s struggle on the character of your reader. I would love hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment so we can discuss it.

Bio:
Shawn Griffith currently has two writing projects underway. One is a non-fiction work about the importance of understanding, identifying, and promoting good character development in ourselves and those we influence. The other is a work of science fiction and is in the formative stages. You can find out more about Shawn by visiting his blog Down Home Thoughts. It is a collection of wisdom, character and common sense thoughts passed along from his parents, grandparents and others, with a dash of stories, photos, book reviews and other writings.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/do-your-characters-have-character/

Writing Archetypes: The Wise Woman

Guest Blog PhotoToday we’ve invited back one of our favorite fellow bloggers, Natacha Guyot. I met Natacha over a year ago and I just adore her upbeat attitude and can-do spirit. She publishes books in her native French and in English, and this year has created an impressive list of publications in fiction and nonfiction. More on that below in her bio.

Please give her a warm Write On Sister welcome!

The Wise Woman by Natacha Guyot

One thing I find important about Strong Women characters is they don’t all need to rely on physical force to display strength. Strength can take numerous forms. Sometimes the media likes to focus exclusively on the kickass / physical resilience aspect. This very physical persona is often combined with an emotionless personality. It is damaging to all women when the portrayal of women risks confining them to another box full of male-lens-based clichés. Because this stereotype dominates, it makes the Strong Woman archetype look problematic and limiting. I have no problem with physically strong women, but not when it’s their only skill.  I love Sarah Connor, Aeryn Sun, Katniss Everdeen and many more, because these kickass women are three-dimensional and show strength in multiple ways.

Women who aren’t seen in combat or related activities can still be amazingly strong.
In the vast landscape of Strong Women, another archetype can be found: the Wise Woman. Regardless of her actions or role in a narrative, a Wise Woman is a Strong Woman to me. Her experience and her problem solving approach are testimonies to her strength of character and importance to the plot.

Here are five examples of the wise woman archetype in action.

The Diplomat:
She believes in negotiations and tries to avoid armed conflict and violence. She is set on retaining peace unless there is no other choice left. She is normally a talented speaker and listener. She is willing to find compromise but it doesn’t mean that she will give up on her values. In STARGATE UNIVERSE, Camile Wray is a huge supporter of civilian leadership, although it doesn’t always make for good decisions. A representative of the International Oversight Advisory, she is a figure of diplomacy from the opening of the show and is seen standing up to military and form alliances with several civilian members of the Destiny’s crew during the two seasons.

Dana Scully - The X Files WikiThe Agent of the Law:
She can be seen relying on physical force more often than other Wise Women, due to field experience and conflict. Yet the Agent of the Law’s work is to ensure the security of the people she works for, most often her country, though it can be a planet or even a group of planets depending on the settings of the fictional universe she lives in. The Agent of the Law is a versatile figure with many tools to solve problems, depending on her background. In THE X-FILES, Dana Scully’s medical formation and experience are what she uses to analyze cases. She looks at things through the scientific lens. Even when the system proves to have flaws, she still does her best to work within the law, to change things from the inside.

Rachel Scott - The Last Ship WikiThe Scientist/Doctor:
This character has many angles, but her calling is to find solutions through science. It is common to see her confronted by problems that look impossible to resolve. This hardship can take many forms: an incurable illness, an unusual patient who doesn’t respond like others did to a certain treatment, a pandemic strikes. Not all scientists/doctors deal with such situations but it remains a common pattern. In THE LAST SHIP, Doctor Rachel Scott is literally given the task to save human kind, by finding a cure to a virus which has been killing most of human kind. Even when supplies and equipment diminish and with the clock ticking, she has no choice but achieve her goal.

Luminara Unduli - WookieepediaThe Teacher:
Mentor figures can be a role of choice for a grown up Wise Woman. The teacher most often helps younger characters as they grow up during the story. She can also work side-by-side with her peers. She understands that education involves many aspects, both formal teaching but also field experience. She can lead by example. In STAR WARS, Jedi Master Luminara Unduli was introduced in Attack of the Clones with her apprentice, Barriss Offee. The two often appeared together in subsequent material, whether novels or television episodes, but not always. Luminara sought to make people think and see them learn by doing, including from their mistakes.

Joyce Summers - Buffy the Vampire Slayer WikiThe Mother:
The Wise Woman as Mother is normally a benevolent maternal figure. She has more life experience and offers advice and support. Even when they disagree, she wants her children to be happy and eventually become accomplished adults. In BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, Joyce Summers is a central figure in Buffy’s development. Finding out and accepting that her daughter is the Slayer isn’t an easy feat for the older Summers, but the two have a strong relationship and Joyce is Buffy’s rock and one of her strongest anchors to normalcy, despite how special her role and duty are.

While these archetypes can exist on their own, a Wise Woman can easily be several of them, depending on what role she plays in the story. She can also have different roles towards different characters. Archetypes help build a character, but including more than one can bring greater complexity to the character. The Wise Woman archetypes make a fantastic addition to many plots as primary or secondary characters.

What about you? Which Wise Women characters do you find compelling? Do you think that the media industries should include more diverse types of strength in the presented female characters?

SharianthCoverReveal BookcoverREVEALNatacha Guyot is a French author, scholar and public speaker. She works on Science Fiction, Transmedia, Gender Studies, Children’s Media and Fan Studies. She is a feminist, a fangirl, a bookworm, a vidder, a gamer and a cat lover. 2015 is a busy year for her, with A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars, and Feminist Bloggers: The 2014 Collection (editor), both self-published. She also published her first work of fiction, a Sci-Fi novella for kids (in French), La Cité de Sharianth. She is currently working on several Fantasy and Science Fiction short stories.
You can connect with Natacha on her blog, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-archetypes-the-wise-woman/

Guest Post: Breaking the Formula: 6 Tips for Writing Great Sex Scenes

Today the Writeonsisters welcome guest blogger Jan Saenz. Jan found us on Twitter when Sharon’s post (Writing Groups: On the Other Hand…) caught her attention. After perusing through the site, she discovered we have guest bloggers on Sundays and pitched us an idea. And voila! Take it away Jan…

feet-in-bedI have a confession to make: growing up, I used to make my Barbie and Ken dolls have sex.  And if you were just as fascinated (and confused) by the mystery of lovemaking as seen on General Hospital, I bet you did too.  And that makes us best friends.  Every afternoon, I would spy on my mother’s beloved soap operas, taking mental notes of the love scene formula.  Some talking.  Some kissing.  They lie down and then…a cutaway.  Two minutes later, they’d resurface under a strategically-placed bed sheet (boobies covered, man chest uncovered).  So, naturally, this was what I thought sex was. I’d skitter off to my room and set up Barbie’s bedroom on the floor of my closet, playing out the imaginary dialogue in my head. I’d press Ken’s hard plastic lips against Barbie’s frozen smile, placing his arms out towards her on either side.  Like Superman flying. I’d then strip them naked, lay them down (side-by-side), pull the covers over their heads, and leave to go make a sandwich. When I’d come back, I’d place the blanket accordingly-covering her tiny plastic mountain boobies and Ken’s mons pubis.  Simple!  Sex is easy, I thought.

Oh, if I only knew.

Lovemaking is a fascinating subject, but it still remains to be something we don’t necessarily talk about (not in public, at least).  Instead, we communicate it through movies, television, advertising, art, and literature.  And while it’s great that we utilize these medias for such purposes, somehow we still get stuck on formulas.  Bed + two naked bodies + simultaneous orgasms = good sex.  As artists, it’s our job to question what people consider “good,” and to challenge opinions of what is stimulating.  And in this case, what is sexy. Here are six suggestions on how to keep your love scenes interesting, well-written, and best of all, fun:

1. It’s all about choices.
One of my favorite theatre professors in college used to say, “It’s all about choices.”  In acting, what separates great actors from mediocre actors?  Their choices!  The projects they pursue.  The creative risks they take. The way they deliver a line. The same goes for writing. So unless we have a damn good reason to pen a sex scene with the usual suspects, we should first consider more original alternatives.  If readers wanted “normal” sex, they’d write it themselves. It ain’t hard. (Aw man, I just punned all over myself.)  So, next time you’re writing a scene where a married couple is trying to make love quietly in their bedroom so not to wake their children, have them go to the kitchen to avoid interruptions.  That way when the story calls for the kids to walk in, there are NO BLANKETS to hide under.  Ta-da!  You’ve just added a whole new layer of comedy just by changing ONE choice.  Magic.

2. Sex is not perfect.
I know it’s trendy for “book boyfriends” to be comparable to extraterrestrial sex gods, but let’s not disregard reality completely. After all, less than 30% of women ALWAYS achieve orgasm during intercourse.  Don’t get me wrong. I get that it’s fiction, but come on!  Sex isn’t perfect every time.  And that’s fantastic!  People want to relate to what they’re reading.  They want to believe that the characters are no different than themselves.  Try plugging in some humor. Laughter. Interruptions. Distractions. Embarrassing sounds. Leg cramps.  Voyeuristic house cats. This doesn’t mean we can’t include one scene that is perfect, but let’s give our readers something to compare it to.  It’ll make that one perfect simultaneous orgasm at the end so much more meaningful.

3. Trust your reader’s imagination.
Don’t tell us everything.  Be brave enough to save room for the reader’s imagination.  After all, that is what’s great about reading!  We get to utilize our subconscious mind, allowing it drive us through the story.  The words are merely a guide.  So maybe don’t include the color of the sheets or whether the bra clasp is in the front or the back.  If you leave some wiggle room for your reader to customize certain details to their liking, it will feel more personal to them.  It will strengthen their connection to the scene. Trust is a powerful thing. Use it.

4. Flirting as foreplay trumps actual foreplay.

Spying on mom’s soap operas was not the end of my curiosity toward sex. Oh no! Cut to junior high, when I chose to closet my curiosities.  Literally!  I stowed all my V.C. Andrews books inside the bottom of my closet. Those gothic romance novels were my treasures, all sporting embarrassing “wrinkles” in the paperback spines. You know which ones I’m talking about. It’s like a public bookmark for “SEX!”  But as my collection grew, I realized something:  It wasn’t the sex that drew me to these romance novels, it was the buildup.  The literary foreplay.  Forbidden flirtations. Unstoppable chemistry. In fact, now when I reread those love scenes, I’m shocked!  They’re so tame–only a few obscure paragraphs. Which proves that what comes before our sex scenes is so much more influential than what comes during.  After all, a romance novel is a sure thing–we know there’s going to be sex eventually.  But how we get there-THAT is what should be making your reader’s toes curl.

5. Practice makes perfect, right?
I’m not talking about on the page; I’m talking about in the bedroom.  If we want our descriptions to really carry some authenticity, well…we gotta do our homework.  Sometimes we assume we know what something feels like, but we don’t take the time to actually analyze it.  Break it down. So one afternoon, pull your hubby or your boyfriend (or girlfriend) into the bedroom to do some research. “I need to accurately describe the sensation of multiple orgasms.  Will you help me?”  Chances are they’ll be dragging you into the bedroom in a fit of excitement.  And hey, if you’re single, you don’t even need to ask someone else. wink, wink How’s that for research?

6. Have fun
It takes guts to write about sex, especially if you’re battling insecurities about what other people will think.  I’m a mother of three, I attend church every Sunday, I can’t write about oral sex!  So we start questioning how much is too much.  This is silly.  In real life, when we’re engaging in lovemaking, we don’t hold back.  So why should writing be any different?  Have fun writing your love scenes.  Be brave. Don’t worry about what your mother is going to think.  Don’t question if a line of dialogue is too dirty.  If your writing is strong, and your characters are enjoyable and fun, your reader will be happy to follow you anywhere you want to go. Let it ride.

And there you have it!

I love women writers, and I applaud those who tackle love scenes in their work.  I commend their bravery in not being ashamed to explore what they and lots of other women want included in their love stories:  Sex.  So with that, I tip my hat to you.  Go for it!  Make those wrinkles in your future paperbacks happen.  You can do it!

HeadShot-Jan Saenz

 

 

JAN SAENZ is a writer, blogger, and full-time mom living in Houston, Texas.  For more information, visit her website at www.jansaenz.com or follow her on Twitter @jan_saenz.

 

 

 

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