Tag Archive: Robin

Using the Forbidden Love Masterplot

Last year we ran a whole series of posts called Masterplots Theater from A to Z. Because we had some plots that started with the same letters, we had to cut several fantastic masterplots. ‘Forbidden Love’ was one of our unhappy victims as Heather wrote about the Fool Triumphant Masterplot instead. We did cover several other love-related plots in the series, Buddy Love, Happily-Ever- After Love, Unrequited Love, Love Story, but today Forbidden Love gets its own special post.

Do you like to write romance? The all-consuming kind, where the relationship quickly blossoms only to falter and struggle under the heavy burden of insurmountable external tension? A romance that leaves the reader in constant doubt, never knowing if the lovers will find a happy ending? If you said yes, Forbidden Love might be the perfect masterplot for your next story.

Classic Forbidden Love Plot Notes:

This is a character driven plot. The narrative is inside the heads and hearts of the main characters most of, if not all of, the time. This masterplot is often told by alternating two first person POVs. However, it can work in close 3rd person POV too.

The lovers share a nearly instantaneous attraction. The characters know they have met their soulmate, someone unlike anyone they have met before. This love cannot be denied! The power of this love is too strong for the characters to fight.

Within moments of meeting (either before or after) the lovers are confronted with the knowledge the relationship is taboo in their society. Common taboo themes are: adultery, class differences, economic factors, geographic boundaries, religious restrictions, race-related tensions, family feuds, May-December romances and same-sex relationships.

This masterplot often features a closed society. One of the lovers typically comes from a group that maintains a long-standing ideology of Us vs Them. This plot also works using two closed societies that overlap in an uneasy truce, a truce the lovers will fracture with devastating consequences.

A third major character (or group of characters) usually represents the antagonistic force, but not always in the traditional sense. This character works as the mouthpiece for the rules, all the reasons the lovers shouldn’t be together. It is often a friend or authority figure in the lover’s family.

Because of the social issues, the lovers are parted and reunited several times during the course of the story. The lovers take dangerous chances to be together, and they look for allies to help them hide the relationship. The lovers are always in fear of discovery, and the cycle of separation and reuniting give this masterplot high emotional tension.

One of the lovers is usually the dominant personality, the one that wants to disregard the risks. The other character is often more concerned with repercussions. This leads to tension within the relationship.

This masterplot always has one of two endings: the lovers find a way to stay together, often by fleeing their homeland, or the story ends in tragedy as the lovers are separated.

This masterplot is a fantastic subplot, and was used very successfully in the film BLADE RUNNER where it gave a bittersweet edge to the story’s ending.

Future Research:

There are many sources for this masterplot, most notable is ROMEO AND JULIET. Elements are also found in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/forbidden-love-masterplot/

4 Core Components of an Awesome Sidekick Character

I’ve always loved sidekicks, Chewbacca, Samwise Gamgee, Ron and Hermione.

Sidekick characters can enhance the story tension, help flesh out the protagonist, and move the plot forward in a number of significant ways. Several of the masterplots that Heather and I wrote about last year include a sidekick character as a possible component. Sidekicks are often included to give the main character a partner, someone to talk to, which helps limit the need for internal dialogue, but they can be so much more. In the hands of a skillful writer, sidekicks are even capable of stealing the spotlight from the main character.

There are four core aspects I like to think about when writing a sidekick character:

1. Emotional Growth

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Sharing common traits and interests is one way to create character bonds, but they can also be created by friendly conflict. A great protagonist is a complicated character, and their friendship with the sidekick character should reflect that. I want these characters to challenge each other emotionally and change because of these interactions. If the protagonist is reluctant about the quest, make the sidekick a true believer and let them push the future hero into action. If the protagonist is rash and ruled by emotions, pair them with a cool and logical sidekick, someone who can teach the protagonist how to think before acting. When there is emotional contrast between these two characters, I find the relationship exciting to watch. Of course, these characters can be alike in a few ways (perhaps they share the same honor code), but I like it best when this pair knows how to disagree.

2. Sidekick Motivations


No two people, no matter how close, share precisely the same motivations. Everyone wants, needs or secretly desires something different. Although the sidekick and main character will travel the same path, I like to make their reasons for wanting to reach their end goals different. For one character, completing the quest might mean fame and riches. For the other, the quest might be a spiritual journey. I often associate the best sidekicks with the push and pull created by them clashing with the hero. Contrasting motivations provide great conflict and help build story tension; it also give the characters an opportunity to compromise.

3. Sidekicks Need a Moment to Shine

Guardians of the Galaxy

The sidekick’s moment to hold the spotlight is often brief, but critical to the story. These defining plot points take just about every shape, but some of the best sidekick moments often involve self-sacrifice. Many sidekick characters will give their own life to save the hero’s. The sidekick’s big moment can also work in reverse; the hero only finds their courage because the must save the sidekick. The reality of storycraft is the hero must live to fight another day, but the sidekick is expendable. That means this story device can get overused and feel too predictable, but it can also be the most touching part in the story and a true transitional moment for the other character.

4. Contrast is Key

The Iron Giant

Protagonists come in every form, and so can sidekicks. The visual contrast between these two characters might be small, or it might be huge, as in the case of pairing non-human with humans. I think contrasting outer forms and inner strengths helps the reader keep the two characters clearly defined, and makes it possible (and even likely) that each character will have unique skills to bring into the story. I love it when the sidekick can do something the hero can’t. One of the biggest complaints I have about sidekicks is when they feel like a pale reflection of the hero. I want the sidekick to have value that extends beyond just being the protagonist’s buddy. If the sidekick doesn’t serve a single plot function, there is a strong likelihood they shouldn’t be in the story in the first place. Clearly separating these two characters into unique beings is a critical step to making the sidekick character shine.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing elevates the quintessential hero like the perfect sidekick. Find the right mix and you might create a powerful pairing, one the world will never forget. There are a million different ways to create a sidekick character. I’ve already written about some of the most popular sidekick archetypes, like the cheerleader, the class clown and the skeptic. You can read that post here. However, even that post is just a small sampling of possible sidekick characters. They can be young and old, strong and weak. They can be pillars of righteousness, or shady criminal types, and I’m crazy about them all.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about sidekick characters. Did they make stories better? Please share in the comments.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/4-%ef%bb%bfsidekick-tips/

4 Visual Tricks for Writers Who Want To Rock NaNoWriMo

Are you entering National Novel Writing Month in November?

If you answered yes, the odds are 50/50 you’re doing some planning this month. If not hardcore plotting, at least making notes and brainstorming your story. I’ve done NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo many times and I’ve won my fair share. For me, planning is the best recipe for success, but that doesn’t mean my stories haven’t gone down a rabbit hole, because they have.

The one strategy that has never failed me is doing some pre-NaNo visual brainstorming. I’ve put together four tricks that I like to think of as my NaNoWriMo secret weapons, but they will work for any writing project. 4-tricks-for-nano

1. Organize Visuals Cues:

I love Pinterest for letting my story creativity run wild. When I start a project, I pin everything! Eye colors, hair styles, outfits, you name it. I tend to keep these boards in secret mode; that way only I can see them and I don’t need to worry about giving away too many surprises.

While my Pinterest vision boards help me see the big picture, most of these pinned items will never make it into the story. Pinterest lacks the flexibility to take my visuals to the next level. Once I’ve narrow down the images, I create visual timelines in Canva. I like to use the free infographic templates to make these. This is the perfect tool to quickly create compact photo references and character studies. These visual guides help me plan each character’s changing physical look and track setting shifts. I like knowing both of these sources of visual candy are a click away, but it’s taking the extra step to organize my images in Canva that really helps keep my creative motor running.

2. Map It:

I’m an artistically challenged human. If you were to ask me to draw a map free-hand, it would look like blobs of Jello with sticks jutting out of it, in other words something completely un-map-like would emerge. However, I still need to see and understand how my characters will move in my virtual space, so that’s why I use tools. And graph paper, lots of graph paper.

My go-to trick for room mapping is the interior designer’s friend: a furniture template. This is not a cheap item, but you will only need to buy it once.

If you like your rooms more fleshed out, or just wouldn’t dream of putting pencil to paper, try the online tool from Pottery Barn. This tool is amazing! You set the room dimensions and drop in and arrange items until you have your room just the way you want it.

Looking for something with more scope, say you want to create a full town? Or perhaps you need a whole continent for your characters to explore? There are online tools for this too, but most of them are costly and challenging to master.

For this I use old maps. I simply can’t pass a sale of beat up and outdated maps without grabbing a handful. I’ve got a real passion for the historical maps, Havana, Cuba in the 1930s, Chicago, Illinois in the 1890s — I just never know what layout will inspire me.

You can make the most familiar landscape look fresh by rotating the ordination. Or stick a few different maps together to create a brand new world. Give the landmarks new names and boom the map is ready for characters to populate in no time.

3. Mind Map it:

This is another organizational brainstorming tool that many writers swear by. Scrivener makes their own version called Scapple. A free trial version is available here. Or you can use index cards and the kitchen table. Either way, this technique gives me a way to scaffold complicated ideas into relationship trees.

This is the perfect method for visual thinkers to lay out any series of events and work out how these events interrelate to the different plots and subplots. It’s also fantastic to use when you just don’t know where the story should go next. You can set down all your ideas and work them in different patterns until the right sequence of events jumps out at you.

4. Gather Brain Trigger Items:

When I get stuck, I always go for my brain triggers. These are special items that help me activate the creative part of my brain. This is not my idea. It’s based on highly detailed neuroscience most of which I don’t even understand, but it works.

The theory is your mind stores all unnecessary data in dormant sectors and you need something to re-prime those sleeping cells before you can access those memories. Almost anything can help reactivate memories: a smell, a picture, a sound, or a taste.

Putting together a box of items you want to use for triggers is highly personal. The triggers that will work best should relate to the emotions you want to transmit with your writing. If you want to write sad, you might want to revisit your worst breakup. You could also find something that reminds you of the death of a loved one. Want to write scary? Try fueling each writing session with mood setting sounds of a storm. I pack my box with old letters and photos. By looking these items over I can recall the mood of a summer beach outing, or trigger memories of childhood camping trips. Try to use your triggers just when writing. Overexposure to triggers weakens their best effect.

When the dark days of November strike and I feel my creativity tank running on empty, I take great comfort in knowing these sources of inspiration are ready to save me.

What about you? Do you have any unusual ways to brainstorm before writing? Please share in the comments. Also share your NaNoWriMo handle so we can all become writing pals this November and cheer each other on.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/4-tricks-for-nanowrimo/

How to Write Respectful Reviews

Writing book reviews is always a hot topic with writers. We realize reviews can make or break book sales, but as reviewers there are times we just can’t offer a glowing recommendation. What then?

Do we stay mum? Or write honestly and hope for minimal fallout?

Heather and I have always embraced the write-an-honest review stance; and we support other authors who strive to do the same thing. Today we are sharing some of our tips for turning a lackluster review into a helpful commentary about storycraft and not something that makes the author feel like we knifed them in the back.


1. Make opening a dialogue your primary goal:
Book reviewers understand they must entertain; if they don’t, people aren’t going to read their blogs. But for some reviewers, the mission to entertain overrides common courtesy. Their negative reviews are fodder for insults in the name of writing amusing copy. When you perceive reviewing as a form of discussion, you approach the process differently. You try to make the review about something bigger: the book’s role in society, the way the writer uses language, how the writer tackled a plot twist, or if they made you think about something differently. These are all valuable aspects of literary culture and worthy of discussion even when a book doesn’t live up to your expectations.

2. Use specific examples:
If you have a point to make, make it! Don’t skirt the issues with indistinct chatter. If the story feels too derivative of another famous story and that made it impossible for you to remain engaged, say that! Don’t say that the book was “boring” or it “put you to sleep.” These comments are too vague and don’t convey what your real complaint is. Besides it’s likely someone reading your review will love retold stories, and they will jump at the chance to read the book you didn’t enjoy. That helps turn your review into a potential sale for the author. Best of all, you stayed true to yourself and your honest opinions while doing it.

3. Distinguish between writing mechanics and your opinions about those mechanics:
Both aspects are important, but one is objective (the book has typos or it doesn’t) and the other is subjective (typos throw you into a whirlwind of revulsion). I can enjoy and even rave about a book with some mechanical issues; however, too much data dumping makes me crazy! Break the two issues apart. Describe the mechanical problem and then give your opinion of how prevalent and disruptive the issue was to your enjoyment of the story.

4. Fact check like your life depended on it:
If you want to comment on any emotionally charged topic (race, religion, etc.), make sure you can support your claim with some hard data. When in doubt, stop writing and start researching. If you don’t have time to learn more about the subject, talk about your impressions in an open-ended way. Ask questions of your readers and invite someone closer to the topic to comment. You might learn your interpretation was correct, or that you were dead wrong. Either way, you have opened a meaningful discussion about the subject, and perhaps that’s exactly what the author intended by broaching a challenging topic.

5. Never make it personal:
A book review is not about the author. Never speculate that the author’s real life is bleeding onto the page, or attempt to make the actions of the characters a reflection of the writer’s state of mind. I know many wonderful people who write ghastly horror stories with high body counts; yet I can assure you they are not secretly planning to do anyone harm. Except maybe Stephen King. I’m sure they would love to take a great big bite… out of his bank account.

6. Back away from rebuttals:
When you write a low-star review, someone might come gunning for you. This someone might be the author, or the author’s fans. The best policy is don’t engage. You have written your review, let it stand. If you feel you must say something, thank the person for reading your review and leaving you a comment expressing the wide range of opinions a book can generate. Even if the person comes back and does their level best to drag you into a fight, don’t do it. If you stay silent, the angry person should eventually move on to the next reviewer.

You didn’t think your bad review was the only one, did you?

7. Link with caution:
You took the time to write a review and you want people to read it. That’s normal, and I bet you drop blog links everywhere you go. But stop for a moment and think. How will your link look to other people? When I go on Amazon or Goodreads and see a rating with a solitary sentence (usually something overly sensationalized) with a “read this review at my blog” style link, I immediately dismiss the review as link bait. Any links on Amazon or Goodreads should include at least a paragraph to show the review is genuine.The absolute worst possible link is the one that looks like the review was written to boost the reviewer’s book sales. Be mindful of reviewing any books in the same genre as your own work. Any negative reviews might be perceived as unfairly running down the competition.

8. Don’t review a book you haven’t read:
Every so often this situation crops up in force. It often revolves around a book some group wants to ban and I consider it a form of reviewer fraud. No matter how much you know  you will hate the book, or how many people have told you unpleasant facts about the book, stay away from rating or reviewing the book. That’s not to say you can’t review a book you didn’t finish, you absolutely can, as long as you’re clear about where and why you put the book down.

9. Avoid reading books you suspect you’ll hate:
I read reviews all the time, and I’m just as likely to be put off by positive review as I am caustic one. That’s because I look at the reasons the reviewer cited, not the number of stars. I know my reading taste and I understand what factors will bother me. I take care to avoid reading those books. Just as you shouldn’t review a book you haven’t read, why bother reading a book you’re sure will disappoint you? Just so you can write a negative review? Take the higher road — life is too short to be that reviewer.

Honesty is the best policy when reviewing, but it’s not the only consideration. Show respect, and be polite, especially when the review isn’t packed with praise.

Do you write reviews of books you didn’t like? Let’s hear your thoughts (pro or con) in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/respectful-book-reviews/

The Princess Bride: A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

the-princess-bride_-a-frame-narrative-worth-studyingGrab your black mask, strap on a sword and beware of Iocane powder. Westley, Buttercup and the rest of the Brute Squad are romancing the blogosphere with THE PRINCESS BRIDE Linkup Party. This weekend blogs everywhere will be sharing their favorite bits and bobs about the movie and the book. You’re invited to take part in festivities by adding your related blog post link below.

Or you can just sit back and enjoy the party by following the links and reading along with us.

Either way, you are sure to discover something new about THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

This story is all about Love! Yes, I said Love, with a capital L! Yet it’s not a traditional romance. It follows few of the typical kissing book tropes. And I think there may lie the source of its overwhelming popularity.

I expect most people reading this post know this story by heart, but to sum up:
Buttercup is a lovely young woman who falls in love with Westley, a farm boy who works for her parents. When Westley leaves to seek his fortune, Buttercup receives notification of his death. In her despair, she agrees to marry the ruthless Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley lives. What results is a tale of their repeated efforts to reunite, defeat obstacles and find their happily ever after.

But that is the inner story, THE PRINCESS BRIDE (movie and book) are frame tales. They represent one of the best modern examples of using the frame narrative a writer can study.

A frame story (also known as a nested narrative) is a technique of putting a story within a story. The outer frame creates the introductory or main narrative. At least in part, the outer frame also sets the stage and binds together with the inner narrative to create a single message. If you really have no clue what a frame story is, you might want to start here with our post, Tips for Crafting a Frame Story.

I’ve decided to focus mostly on the outer frame and on what I feel is the main message of the story: generational love, the love of family.

Because it’s a more compact version of the story, I’ll be using examples from the movie. However, it should be noted that the same message is presented in the book. And because the book version gives more attention to the outer frame, it plays an even larger role.

The first indication that generational love is the message of the story is the selection of the protagonist. While the father is the protagonist in the book, the grandson plays this role in the movie. Yes, I expect this to shock most people, but let’s look at the evidence.

The grandson is the only character to experience any form of meaningful character change. While Westley and Buttercup love each other from their first scenes, the boy views his grandfather as his antagonist. He hates that his grandfather has all the power in the relationship. He can force their togetherness with the support of the boy’s mother.

the-pinchThe grandfather confirms the grandson’s perceptions of their combative relationship by pinching the boy’s cheeks and devaluing the boy’s TV watching. When he wants to read to him, the grandson dismisses the plan by saying he will try to stay awake and also by showing his displeasure over the selection of a “kissing” book.

The boy might love his grandfather, but they have no common ground and there is no respect, or appreciation of the older man’s attentions.

Through hearing the inner story the boy is exposed to two contrasting versions of family love: 1) the intense love, portrayed by Inigo Montoya, and 2) the lack of love, represented by Prince Humperdinck.

Inigo expresses his family love in his need to avenge the death of his father. His revenge quest replaces his natural grieving process and gives him a way to memorializing his father. His character gathers strength and determination from this childhood loss. He is willing to forgo his own life goals for the sake of finding justice for the father he loved so dearly.

Humperdinck, whose father is still alive but addled, shows no interested in the man. The old king is a figurehead, someone Humperdinck brings out for events and tucks away out of sight the rest of the time. Humperdinck is unmoved by Buttercup’s love for Westley, or for her affections for his father. The Prince is mostly a loner, and he uses fear, not love, as the only method of enforcing his rule.

When Inigo kills Count Rugen, aka the six fingered man, Humperdinck is left completely alone. The Prince has lost his only friend Count Rugen and also his political tools, Buttercup and Vizzini. Inigo is hurt, but he still has the support and love of his tight-knit family of friends. His side is the victor in every way. Love in all its forms – family, friendship and romantic – has triumphed over adversity in the inner story.

In the outer story the boy has internalized the story and made a change. He relishes the time he just spent with his grandfather and invites the man back the following day to reread the book with him. There is a clear indication the boy now sees the value of his grandfather and their relationship is headed in the right direction.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE is written for the child; it’s all about convincing the child in the outer frame to change his perceptions. The inner story is the device used to achieve that end result. In both the book and the film, the story is about creating common ground for the generations to converge and to remember the value of family.

Come back on Sunday, September 25 when Heather will be talking about gender-swapping characters in The Princess Bride!

Let me know if you agree with my interpretation in the comments.

You can also follow in real-time by using the #PrincessBrideParty hashtag on Twitter.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-princess-bride-frame-narrative/

3 Tricks for Character Names

3-character-naming-tricksFor a long time I hated naming my characters. No sooner did I settle on a name and I would realize another book (or three) used the same name. The main reason I got myself into this renaming mess was because I followed some widely accepted writing advice, I used charts of popular baby names for the years my characters were born in.

Big mistake!


Because every other writer is using those same darn charts!

Lately, I’ve also realized that the reason some character names resonate with me is not because they are popular names, it’s because they are unusual names. The kind of names I don’t hear everyday.

Finding unusual names that fit a character perfectly is never easy, but these three tricks have helped me uncover some fantastic names. Names that work with my story and not against it, and I think they can help other writers.

#1 – Use Juxtaposition:

There are times when using names that clash works best. Juxtaposition can reinforce underlying story themes and create subliminal messages without being too obvious. I don’t know for sure what these famous authors had in mind as they named these characters, but it seems like juxtaposition was a factor.

Take the names Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. The use of homophones in the name Sherlock Holmes invokes a feeling of security. It’s encoded with a slew of comforting messages, who wouldn’t want (and place their trust in) a surely locked home? Whereas the name Moriarty is too reminiscent of the word mortality and produces a feeling of unease and danger. It’s also notable that many of the first names in the Sherlock Holmes books are generic names for the Victorian era (John, Mary, Irene) elevating the exceptional siblings with their unique names of Mycroft and Sherlock away from the crowd.

It looks like juxtaposition was also intended with the names Katie Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler from GONE WITH THE WIND. O’Hara is likely derived from the surname of an ancient Irish ruling family. While a Butler is a male servant. This juxtaposition echoes the relationship dynamic of the two characters perfectly. Scarlett perceived herself as better of the Rhett, and in many ways viewed him in terms of what he could do to serve her needs.

#2 – Themes Work Great for Collections of Names:

I just finished a project where I used all themed names and I loved it. There is no better example of a major author using themed names than THE HUNGER GAMES. This book used two main themes, nature and Roman history. Most people realize Katniss is the name of a water flower that looks like an arrowhead. But there is also Gale Hawthorne (a hawthorn is another flowering plant) and these best friends have sisters named Primrose and Posy. Katniss and the other rebels battle President Snow. This is also a good use of juxtaposition because snow is a natural enemy of most flowers. Both major and minor character have names taken from organic sources, like Rue (a medicinal herb), Clove (aromatic flower bud used as a cooking spice), and Crane (a long-legged water bird).

The second grouping is the names with Roman history overtones. Examples of these names include: Seneca, Cinna, Cato, Plutarch and Caesar. These names and the bread based names of Peeta and Panem, reinforce the idea that the Hunger Games are modeled on the Roman era Bread and Circuses, a program of using large-scale entertainment to keep the masses docile.

Another bonus of using the theme method is it gives the impression that all the names go together and that helps improves the world building. It clearly worked that way for THE HUNGER GAMES, so it should work for the rest of us.

#3 – Witty Names:

I used to think only certain kinds of books could use witty character names, but I was wrong. Everyone loves an inside book joke. And witty names don’t have to be funny, they can be names with two meanings, or with a hidden meaning.

One of the masters at this form was Ian Fleming. His James Bond books overflow with witty character names like: Tiffany Case, Plenty O’Toole and Auric Goldfinger. In case you didn’t know auric is another word for gold. This doubling of the word helps denote just how much this character loved the shiny stuff. Fleming also created the lively moniker of Caractacus Potts (a crackpot inventor) for his children’s book CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. However, many of the movie’s witty names owe their life to another character naming giant, the author Roald Dahl. Dahl wrote the screenplay for CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG with Ken Hughes and those two writers gave us a sugar heiress named Truly Scrumptious and an overly explosive prone dictator named Barron Bomburst. I’m sure Fleming would have approved.

It’s fun running a Google search on a character’s name and having it turn up a root meaning worthy of a giggle. Who can forget Dahl’s Veruca Salt from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY? However, few readers might know her first name was adapted from a form of wart. And warty she was. The same book also gave us Arthur Slugworth (a slimy spy), and Mike Teavee (a kid who lived for watching TV).

These three tricks have drastically changed how I name my characters. I will never use a baby name list again. I hope one of these ideas will also help you find some great new character names. Please share your tips for naming characters in the comments.

If you’re one of our blog subscribers, you may have noticed that you’re not getting post updates from us. We have a programming malfunction with our subscriber service, but we’re working hard to fix the problem. You may have also missed Heather’s last post on the Hero’s Emotional Midpoint.

A Princess Bride Linkup Party_

And you may have also missed the announcement for our upcoming Princess Bride Blog Linkup Party. We hope you (and your blog) will join us for a weekend of Princess Bride themed blog-hopping fun.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/character-naming-tricks/

Pitching 101: Twitter Fishing for Agents

If you have pitched a novel in the last few years, chances are you have at least considered using a Twitter event. Pitching a manuscript to agents and editors this way is not without tribulations, and frankly it’s a bit like fishing. You’re casting your best tweet into the teeming waters of the hashtag feed and hoping an agent will drift by and take a bite.

Twitter Fishing-1A bite, in this case, means an agent will hit the heart, signifying they have an interest in reading your query letter and sample pages.

As with any pitching experience, you risk the sting of going home empty handed, but with Twitter your rejection is a public experience. It’s the ultimate pitching plunge; an intimidating shock, followed by hours of waiting around to see if anyone noticed your pretty little word lures.

I’m going to assume you’ve already weighed the pros and cons, and decided this is the right approach for you and your manuscript.

That means you have:
1) A finished and edited project.
2) A manuscript that is not already self-published.
3) A manuscript that is not under contact with another agent or publisher.
4) Read the pitch event rules carefully. Even if you have been in this contest before, read the rules, because rules change. Be prepared to obey the rules to the letter.
5) A query letter and a synopsis ready to accompany your sample pages should your tweet earn any favorites. You don’t want to keep an excited agent waiting.

Even with all these preparations, you still need the best tweets and just describing your book (the main character, the conflict and the stakes) may not be enough to hook an agent.

Here are a 4 more ways to help your tweets float to the top and get noticed.

1. Snag More Views with Keywords:
During these events, thousands of tweets are flooding the same stream. And few agents will even see most of them; it’s just impossible for someone to read that many pitches. Using keywords is like fishing with the right bait. Agents make use of hashtags, abbreviated genre codes, keywords and qualifiers (YA, MA, etc) to search the feed. Insuring your tweet has the proper descriptive terms won’t guarantee an agent favorite, but it might lead to an agent noticing your tweet and that’s a start. Get comfortable with hashtags, know your genre codes, and figure out what publishing terms might help distinguish your work before the contest starts.

2. Lure Readers with Your Unique Voice:
You will often hear agents say that a writer’s voice is their first clue they might be interested in the author’s work. That’s because agents and editors can help a writer fix a plot flaw, but voice is something a writer has (or doesn’t have) instinctively. Agents love finding a fresh voice and they fight to sign those with truly special voices. Pick words and phrases that give your tweets the flavor of your writing style. Whether your style features lyrical prose or lots of gore, including these aspects will help make your tweets shine. It also wouldn’t hurt to update your Twitter profile to reflect your voice, especially since that’s the first thing an agent will notice when they hover over your Twitter handle.

3. Hunt for the Quietest Pools:
There is a clear pack mentality at Twitter pitch events. Many people set their tweets up in advance and have them posted on the hour and/or on the half hour. Using an app makes sense; it’s the best way to get the largest number of allowable tweets posted during the pitch window. And it lets the writer go about daily duties uninterrupted. It also helps with all those pesky time zone issues, a common problem for many of us. However, if you can arrange your schedule to manually add your prewritten tweets, that’s the best approach. Not only can you time your tweets to appear during any natural lulls in the posting feed, but you can respond to comments in real time and up your feed ranking. This also gives you the chance to drop a tweet when agents specifically say they’re online reading pitches.

4. Pull Up Anchor and Change Tactics:
There is an accepted tweet formula for pitching (Protagonist + Conflict + Goal/Stakes) but if you have already spent a contest (or two) pitching this formula without any success, you might want to consider shifting to your antagonist’s goal for a tweet. Maybe bring in the love interest and their problems and concerns. Or include a tweet about some aspects of your subplot. Try including your comparable titles in a tweet. Never stick to the same formula if it’s not working. Including different aspects of your story in each tweet broadens your chances of making a connection with someone ready to love and champion your story.

Twitter pitching is not for everyone, but it has opened doors for many writers who have met and signed with their dream agent, or publisher as a result of the experience. Remember to do your research. There are people who use Twitter pitch events for predatory practices. No reputable agent or publisher should ever ask you to pay a reading fee. Protect yourself and your work, don’t send pages to just anyone. When in doubt, ask other writers and check websites like Predators and Editors.

There are Twitter pitches running all year long, including one of the biggest #PitMad which will take place again on September 8th.

Good luck and happy fishing.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/pitching-on-twitter/

Pitching 101: Query Letters

Pitching 101(2)The dreaded query letter! I think this pitch makes every writer slightly stressed out, and with good reason. It’s 250 words that might change your whole life.

No pressure there!

But before we get busy talking about some tips, let’s review the two cardinal rules of querying:

Rule 1: Never give an agent an easy reason to reject your query.

Agents get so many letters, they are hunting for any red flags, typos or other mistakes to help them weed the slush pile.  Make sure you follow agency guidelines and send a clean letter.

Rule 2: If the agent or small press editor does reject you, never send them disgruntled emails or talk bad about them on your blog or other social media.

These two rules are broken by inexperienced writers all the time, but rule two is the one that shocks me. Publishing is a small world. It’s wise to treat every interaction as you would a job interview and the query as your job application, because that’s what a query is. You want to create a business partnership with another professional, so be smart about what you say and how you say it.

Query Letters

The basic components of a great query letter are not complicated; it’s just four parts:
– Introduction
– Teaser
– Facts
– Closing/Bio

The order of these four parts is fluid, but some agents are specific about the order they favor. It never hurts to find out what each agent likes and adjust the letter formatting to fit.

The Introduction:

Keep the Introduction tight. You should be able to cover these four introduction points in one to two sentences.

1. It takes longer, but it’s best to query one person, by name and title, with each query letter.

2. There are agents who enjoy letters with a personal touch. For those agents you can mention why you’re interested in working with them. Perhaps they represent a favorite author. Or maybe they wrote an article, tweet, or wish list entry requesting the kind of book you’ve written.

3. It’s nice to give the letter a hint of personality, but don’t take it to the extreme. Never fill the query letter with exclamation marks and stalker-like gushing.

4. If you have met this person at a conference, or they have expressed an interest in anything you have written in the past, you might want to jog their memory.

The Teaser:

The next five points are for the most important part of the query letter.

1. The best teasers include the following four aspects of the story, presented in one to two tight paragraphs.

i. A snapshot of the main character (or two main characters) and what makes them unique. This is often the life goal the main character wants to achieve, or something from their past they want to overcome.

ii. The problem/obstacle faced by the main character(s) and how it influences their life. This is often the story’s inciting incident, or the first main plot point. You want to mention what sparks the characters to change direction.

iii. What the stakes are, namely what will happen to the main character if they fail to solve their problems? The stakes should be real, something tangible will happen to them if they fail. And the stake should be personal and preferably high and life changing.

iv. You can also include any unique setting or the aspects of the world building that make your story come to life.

2. For most novels the teaser will include information from the first fifty pages. Some writers also like to include the ending in the query, but I prefer to save the ending for the synopsis.

3. Let your voice shine through. While lots of good query templates and examples of successful query letters are available for reference, too few people talk about voice. Voice is a confusing collection of things: word choice, tone, sentence rhythm and more. Voice might be a hard thing to pin down, but it’s critical to agents.

4. The tone of the letter should mirror the tone of the book. A light funny query letter is all wrong for a serious book packed with social commentary.

5. Don’t bog down the reader in details and extra character names. Hit the high points and move on.

The Facts:

There are nine important facts to consider including in a query.

1. A working title.

2. A word count. With picture books this number should be to the exact word count, but with longer length books you can round within reason. Make sure you numbers are within the standard range for your genre.

3. The genre and/or sub-genre. Even with crossover titles pick the closest one. You risk making the project look unmarketable if you name three or more unrelated genres.

4. For children’s books, include age demographics. Remember market demographics (MG, YA, NA etc.) and genre are not interchangeable. Pick only one age demographic. If your book manages to crossover into to another age demographic that’s great, but for the query should show you understand the market and know where your book will primarily fit.

5. Your comparable titles AKA comps. This is a book, movie or TV show that compares to your story in a few critical ways. You can learn more about that here.

6. A logline if you have one, that’s just a single sentence that sums up the theme of your book. Sometimes your comps might also work as a logline. More on loglines in this post.

7. Any awards the manuscript has won.

8. In rare cases, the facts also need to include out-of-the-norm structural or prose choices. If the novel is written in verse, or if it features reverse chronology, alternating viewpoints, or any other major plot devices, you should mention that.

9. Which point of view and tense you’re writing in.

Failure to include the facts is another way writers give agents an easy reason to reject their query letter.

The Closing / Bio:

You don’t need much to close the letter, but these last three points are helpful.

1. If relevant to your manuscript, include one line about why your background makes you the best person to write this book. For example, if you are a lawyer writing legal thrillers. Don’t mention mundane hobbies or interests, just solid expertise that the majority of writers will not have.

2. Education, such as an MFA, goes here. Don’t get crazy with GPAs, minor awards, what professors have to say about your work and such. Just mention the school and your status if pending a diploma.

3. Contact information. Many agents and editors use submission services, and these programs can strip off your email header. Adding contacts inside the body of the email helps agents and editors can find you faster. Be aware, listing your blog or social media contacts means an interested agent will look you up.

Most publishers and agents want to work with writers who know the publishing market and that means your query should show your preparation. If you’re unsure your letter will stack up, consider sending it other writers to read. Or think about entering a query feedback contest. Also take the time to read winning queries, and follow Twitter feeds (or MSWL) where agents talk about rejecting or requesting pages based on queries. These are great places to learn about the query process. You have only one or two minutes to crawl up from the slush, make them count!

Please share your favorite query tips or pitching experience in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/query-letters/

Pitching 101: Finding Perfect Book Comps

Pitching 101(2)The cornerstone of all marketing is the pitch. It is used to sell everything from political candidates to dish soap. I think every writer should know how to pitch, even if they have no interest in working with agents or publishers. Don’t you want to pitch your books to readers? And should you want to grow your self publishing empire, maybe you will want to pitch to reviewers, small bookstore owners, librarians and movie companies.

Regardless of who you plan to pitch, the foundation of book pitching is made up of the same basic parts. That’s why WriteOnSisters is running this Pitching 101 series all month. We are trying to help demystify the many stages and moving parts of the pitch. I’d originally planned to talk about the query letter today, but I realized it was still too soon. There is one more critical step in the process I wanted to talk about first: The Comp!

Pitching 101_ Finding Perfect Book CompsThe comp, or comparable title, is a term the publishing industry uses to help sort books beyond the typical ranges of genres and sub genres. It’s a valuable marketing tool for every stage of a novel. It demonstrates the author understands their novel, their writing style and the marketplace they hope to dominate. When authors find the right comps, everyone benefits. Good comps not only help sell books to agents, but agents use them to sell books to publishers. They are so critical to the traditional publishing process that the comps often follows a manuscript all the way to the final book jacket blurb.

Including two to three comp titles is typical for a standard query letter, but narrowing down your list to the right titles is not as easy as it sounds. Here are 7 tricks I use to find comps:

Read your genre:
I love to read in my writing genre, but I know lots of writers don’t because they worry it will influence their writing. I respect that. You have to understand your writing process and do what works best for you. However, once the book is done, it’s time to read the popular titles. Reading is not just the best way to find comps; it also helps us understand what is on trope and what is unique about our stories. It’s always useful to know the difference. One helps the story fit in and gives readers what they expect, while the other makes sure the story breaks new ground. The balance and contrast of these two forces is what makes each book feel special, or too reminiscent of another book. When I’m looking for comps I never expect to find a perfect match, so I strive to find titles that invoke a sense of the manuscript in at least two to three different aspects.

Research your short list:
Once I’ve pulled together a small group of titles, I do research on them. I want to get a feel for each book’s popularity. Is the book still selling? Does it have a lot of reviews? What do readers on Goodreads and at book blogs have to say about the book? I’m looking for books that have done well, and would be recognized by someone who keeps track of the genre. I avoid self-published books unless it’s an exceptionally well-known title, and/or it’s by a successful hybrid author. Researching the market is also a great way to get a feel for the current landscape of any genre and it provides clues about where the genre is heading in the future.

Weed out the genre’s top 1%:
Using the names of the stellar standout authors will just get the comp titles dismissed. I try to pick comps written by the new rising stars of the genre, or mid-list writers with a solid track record of sales. I also try to pick books that have been published in the last two to three years. The one exception to the 1% rule is the mash-up. You often can’t pitch a genre bending project without poking a stick at the literary canon. In those cases it’s best to take the biggest name you can think of and make it work.

Create a contrast comp or mash-up:
When working with a genre-bending book, it’s often necessary to create a mash-up comp. The way you do this is select a title that shares some critical elements (most likely it uses the same masterplot as your story) and you team that title with something that reflects the other half of your book’s style. This type of comp shows up a lot in retellings and in books that cross genre lines. These crazy what-if creations are often strangely compelling and can make fantastic taglines. For example:
If SLEEPING BEAUTY was told by Stephen King and set in a time-traveling alien universe.
(BTW I would totally read that book.)

Look for other sources:
Novel titles are the most common source of comps, but they are not the only source available to you. Consider using movies, comic books, music videos or TV shows. If you decide to research other sources you can use older titles. With DVDs and other types of on-demand media content, there is a much longer shelf life for these examples. When using media, make sure you clarify your source. After all, there might be a book with the same name and you don’t want to confuse people.

If you get stuck:
This is not supposed to be easy, but it should be possible. If I can’t find any comps, I go back to  the bookstore, or jump back into Goodreads and Amazon to start over. Goodreads is a solid source of book topic lists. Amazon works best for me after I’ve already pinned down one perfect title, then I can use their book suggestion algorithm to find a second book. I also ask people who have read my manuscript for some suggestions.

Important tip:
Avoid saying your book is a better version of some other classic or popular title. Even if it is better, you don’t want to be the one saying it. Publishing is a small world; a negative comp will stomp on someone’s toes. Reading is subjective, what you hated, others loved. You don’t want to use your comp to attack another author, instead compare your project with titles you respect and admire.

Knowing your comparable titles shows people in the publishing industry you did your homework. For self-published writers, it helps defines who and where the likely readers are, and that makes focusing any marketing efforts easier. When we understand our readers better, I think we write better books. Personally I’m swayed by comps as a reader; I just pre-ordered something mostly on the basis of the comps. However, I’m interested in hearing what you think. Do you worry about finding good comps as writers? And do comps influence your book selections as readers?


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/finding-book-comps/

7 Tips for Better Book Swag

SwagSwag is the term used for the colorful marketing goodies authors give away to promote their books and brand. Swag is a big part of many book promotion packages, and it’s increasingly important in a crowded marketplace because it sends every prospective reader off with a little something to remember the book and author by.

Here are our tips for creating eye-catching–and totally hoard-worthy–swag.

1. The better the swag, the longer it lingers.

Every marketing person knows this rule, yet the idea of what constitutes “better” is subjective. A bestselling author can give out the ugliest swag item in the world and still have a line out the door of rabid grabby hands. And what works for a mystery writer will not necessarily work for a children’s writer. Each and every book is different; you need to understand your product and your audience. Try to think about the best piece of book swag you have ever received and how it made you feel about that author. For me, it was a mini Ouija board on a key ring. I love it! And I’ve already bought three of this author’s books and counting.

2. Revamp the commonplace.

Swag that creates a high demand and breeds long-term retention takes creativity. The old standby of paper bookmarks are cheap, but they’re uninspired. And if 20 authors at the same book fair are giving away paper bookmarks, you have only a one in 20 chance that your bookmark is the one they reach for. Think outside the box. Give away bubble tubes, stress balls or small toys. BubblesIf your heart is set on bookmarks, find a way to give it a spin. Try book thongs.These long colorful bookmarks are more like beautiful book jewelry.

Book ThongsThongs are totally practical swag, light weight and small enough to ship in an envelope, or to carry by the hundreds in your luggage while traveling. You can make these items yourself, buy them ready-made on Etsy, or hire your kids or some local teens to make them for you. Try to pick beads that match your book’s theme or make them with some custom-printed ribbon. With a little imagination, you will have bookmarks people will cherish for years to come.

3. Shun quickly consumed swag.

Hungry book fair trekkers will scoop up cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies in cute custom printed cookie bags by the handfuls, but they’ll shuck your data along with the wrapper just as quickly. Consumable swag is tricky stuff, but for some books indulging a potential reader’s sweet tooth might be the logical choice. That means you must think smart about your treats. Since talking to strangers makes everyone self-conscious, consider giving out mints. You can pick up over 100 individually wrapped mints with custom printed stickers for about $16.00 USD. Most people don’t binge-eat mints, so the candy should last longer in a person’s bag. Better yet, if you have the marketing money to spend, get some of your mints in a custom printed tin. Swag TinTins are readily available from companies that specialize in wedding favors, but they do run about .75 to 1.00 each. This price point make tins best for special occasion swag. The plus side of tins is they mail like a dream, and when the mints are gone, the tin is reusable. Your tin might stay on a reader’s desk for years. That creates a long-term happy reminder of how thoughtful you were to give them such handy swag.

4. Find a need and fill it.

Public venues present the opportunity for you to come to the rescue by filling a need. Pens and pencils fit the bill perfectly, they are inexpensive and people love them. Consider teaming your pen with a mini notebook, pocket planner or date book. This will increase the value of your swag and turn it into a solid keeper.


Always a big hit in the fill-a-need category are giant clips for holding handouts and tote bags. Offer tote bags as swag and every reader with overburdened arms will find you. A great place to spot more ideas like these is on Pinterest.



5. Comfort is king.

Summer heat and air-conditioned spaces makes for dry cracked lips. Consider giving your new friends a lip balm to sooth those aches. You can buy high quality/major manufacturer brands of unlabeled lip balms for pennies on the dollar. Tubes start as low as .28 cents each if you buy them in lots of 50. Check out Bulk Apothecary.Lip BalmThey have a range of lip balms in assorted colors and flavors. Make your own labels and you can send everyone you meet off with kissable lips and a way to remember your book for at least a month of happy smiles. This one is perfect for romance writers. Mailing lip balms might work okay in cooler months, but in summertime keep these for in-person handouts.

6. Reward the faithful.

If you have the marketing budget for a few expensive items, try to make sure your most loyal fans get those items. The best way to do this is with cross-promotion. Place a riddle or a task (like creating fan art) on your website. Make sure you include the information about the special prize waiting for the first group of people who email, tweet pictures to your hashtag, or come to your book fair table with the secret information. T-shirts, fun USB drives or any high-end swag item is perfect.

7. Keep information simple and accurate!

Figure out what you want your readers to remember. Is it your name, your website, the title of your next book? Custom printed swag is often highly restrictive of word counts. There can be set-up fees to consider. Try to select easy-to-read fonts and high contrast ink. Proofread everything at least three times before you order. There is nothing worse than swag with a big old typo on it, or with print so small and faded no one can read it.

What is the best swag item? Please share your suggestions, DIY tips or links to great swag resources in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/author-swag/

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