On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Publish an E-Book: Part One

This series discusses how you can format, e-publish, and sell a book on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes and Noble (Nook).

E-Book sales are exploding. As a small publisher myself, I can tell you that 90% of my book sales income last year was from e-books, especially the Kindle. This makes sense: publishing an e-book to Amazon or Barnes and Noble is free, and there are only nominal ancillary delivery costs. I also sold a fair number of print books, but printing/shipping costs, as well as the requisite 55% discount to the booksellers, ate into profits voraciously.

As recently as two years ago I almost always advised someone to try for a traditional publisher before going it alone. Now I'm ambivalent. I've heard enough stories of self-published million-ebook sellers (John Locke and Amanda Hocking were the first, and the ranks are growing) that I'm beginning to think e-publishing in many circumstances is a better way to go.

The main advantage of e-publishing yourself is NO GATEKEEPERS that almost always rudely turn you down, and if they don't they take years to accept and publish you. The main disadvantage of e-publishing yourself is that you must make sure what you have is good writing.

For this series of articles I'll go over an easy way to e-publish your book. There are more sophisticated ways, but the method I describe here will give you a perfectly formatted and presented e-book. We will assume, of course, that you have something good enough to publish in the first place. People are paying money for your book, and they will be annoyed if it isn't at least reasonable.

There are three format types for e-books:


The .mobi/.azw format is proprietary to the Amazon Kindle, and downloaded free Amazon apps for computers, tablets, and smartphones HERE. The .mobi/.azw format was originated by Mobipocket and bought by Amazon in 2005.

The .ePub format is considered the "default" format for e-books. It is used by the Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony e-reader, Apple iPod, and other devices except for Amazon Kindle. Libraries with e-book lending usually use the .ePub format. It's possible to translate .mobi to .ePub and vice versa using Calibre provided the e-book rights will allow this.

PDF (Portable Document Formatting) preserves the exact layout of the document across forums. PDF documents are easy to read on the computer using Adobe Acrobat, available for free download HERE. The advantage is that PDF documents can be viewed on all e-readers. The disadvantage for PDF documents is that text size and layout cannot be manipulated, and therefore may make PDF documents difficult to read on e-readers such as Kindle and Nook. PDF documents are sold on individual websites, not on Amazon or Barnes & Noble for Kindle and Nook. While PDFs can be read on these e-readers, this is only secondarily.

I will not go over packaging or selling PDF documents because this is a separate topic from learning how to produce and sell E-Books. Just FYI, if you want to produce a PDF there are many free PDF converters for the PC. A popular one, PrimoPDF, is located at www.primpdf.com/download.aspx. The Mac has a built-in PDF converter under the “Print” option.

OK, enough for today. On Friday I'll go into formatting your document to prepare it for e-book translation.

Copyright 2012 by Amy Deardon. All rights reserved.

check out: www.ebooklistingservices.com

Friday, July 27, 2012

Publishing, Self-Publishing, and EBooks

Publishing is going through a seismic shift. Up to just a few years ago, a writer almost certainly took his manuscript to a literary agent, then waited with baited breath until said manuscript was sold to a traditional publishing house. Probably two percent or fewer of the manuscripts were actually picked up. The traditional publisher then produced the book to release about 18 months later into bookstores and other sales places. Some writers, inspired by modern self-published wonders (The Christmas Box, Eragon, The Shack), decided to self publish, almost all to a resounding thud of the beloved manuscript.

Then came the internet. Online bookstores like Barnes & Noble and especially Amazon sold books online, and the buyer no longer had to actually travel to the bookstore, but simply wait for that little brown box to land on the doorstep. For the author, there was a slight easing of the self-publishing process for print books, since *anyone* could have his book available for sale on the internet. However it was still an uphill climb the size of Mount Everest -- possible, but very very few actually made the summit.

Some enterprising authors with niche topics began to put up original books as PDF documents on their own websites. These tended to be pretty expensive -- maybe $30 or more.

But this wasn't enough for self-publishers. The development of e-ink (Kindle) and other factors made e-readers a viable option for reading books. Fast forward five years, and the ebook market is now exploding.

The nice thing for writers about ebooks is that you can format your ebook and create a cover for little or no cost. I lecture on this topic often at conferences, and can tell you that even for a techno-idiot (me), it's pretty easy once you learn how. There are also companies that convert manuscripts to ebooks. I have been so outraged at the predatory nature of many of these places (high prices, continuing cuts of book sales profits, and/or continuing "listing" fees year after year) that (here's my plug) I've developed my own EBOOK CONVERSION AND LISTING SERVICES. I did this for the people I meet at conferences who, for whatever reasons, don't want to convert their books themselves.

You can visit my site at http://www.ebooklistingservices.com. If you want an ebook converted, here's my promise: I will treat you the way I want to be treated, and if I can't make you happy I will cheerfully refund 100% of your money.

For you DIY types there is a convenient DTP (digital text platform) on the amazon and B&N sites that automatically converts your book to mobi (Kindle) or ePub (Nook) formats. There are also conversion systems (Calibre is the best) that you can use on your computer to convert your file. Smashwords has a "meatgrinder" system (their word) to convert and then list your manuscript on many ereader sites.

The point is that publishing is changing. The good news is that it's much easier and cheaper to publish. The bad news is there are now A LOT of truly bad things being released. If you go this route, please make sure your work is worth the money that a reader will pay. I beg you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Contest for Independent Publishers

This is a fabulous opportunity for books that are self-published or published through small, micro, or academic presses.

This is from the website:

Each year, independent publishers (academic, independent, small press, and self-published authors) release extraordinary books to little or no recognition. The Eric Hoffer Award for independent books recognizes excellence in publishing with a $2,000 grand prize and various category  honors and press type distinctions, as well as the winners of the Montaigne Medal, da Vinci Eye, and First Horizon Award. The book awards are covered in the US Review of Books. After the contest, books are donated to libraries, schools, and hospitals where appropriate.

Anyone (including the author) can submit one or more books for the Eric Hoffer Award. If you are familiar with the nomination process, use the easy nomination form. You may pay the registration fee with either a check, money order, or on-line via credit card. 

The Eric Hoffer Award for short prose and books was established at the start of the 21st century as a means of opening a door to writing of significant merit. It honors the memory of the great American philosopher Eric Hoffer by highlighting salient writing, as well as the independent spirit of small publishers. The winning stories and essays are published in Best New Writing, and the book awards are covered in the US Review of Books.

The Prizes

Two grand prizes are awarded annually: one for short prose (i.e. fiction and creative nonfiction) and one for independent books from small, micro, and academic presses, as well as self-published books. Prizes include a $250 award for short prose and a $2,000 award for best independent book. In addition to the two main grand prize awards, various other honors and distinctions are given for both prose and books, including the Montaigne Medal, the da Vinci Eye, and the First Horizon Award. Submissions are accepted each year by nominating books and prose. The book deadline is January 21st. The prose deadline is March 31st.


This contest is also looking for contest judges. Check it out!

Website: http://www.hofferaward.com/

Friday, July 20, 2012

This is Why I Write

I love this picture. Isn't this so true -- when no one understands or wants to hash out an issue -- when you may not even KNOW there is an issue -- books have a way of gently taking you by the hand and showing a better way. Novels especially, because they just tell a story, and buried within that story is the kernel of what you need, or the model that you can follow to be just a little braver or stronger.

Keep writing, my friends. You don't know how your words may touch someone.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Literary Agent Submissions: A First-Hand Description

As an aspiring writer, how is your query received by the agent? Read on for a little first-hand description.

I read an interesting essay on the Amazon Create Space community by someone (Mr. Mysterious) who’d done a two week internship (7 work days total, since there were snow days) in NYC last winter. I wrote to ask for permission to post this on my blog and unfortunately didn’t receive a response, so am taking the liberty here of just summarizing his observations and impressions because they’re so helpful. I’m assuming this is OK since this guy posted on a public forum loop.

Mr. Mysterious worked for an agent mainly reading queries and samples – since this agency requested a synopsis and first 5 pages when querying. He estimates during his time there that he went through 300-350 queries, averaging about 50 per day. For eight hours (not including lunch or bathroom breaks, or other duties and time expenditures), that might be about six or so per hour, or even more roughly one every ten minutes. This isn’t much time to impress someone who is reading, say, eight pages per submission (1 page query, 5 page sample, 2 page synopsis).

Many of the queries were “way too long,” and he found himself skimming the long ones and/or those with detailed plot descriptions. He felt shorter was definitely sweeter, and he paid closer attention to the concise ones. Queries were usually mediocre, and the handful that weren’t often had sample writing that was.

Mr. Mysterious always read the sample, even if he didn’t like the query. If the query didn’t have a sample, he requested the author to email it back in the body of the email.

After a day, he stopped reading the synopses:

1. Some were too long, occasionally even longer than the sample.
2. After awhile they started to sound the same.
3. If he didn’t like the sample, he didn’t care about the synopsis.
4. They took a long time to read, and when going through a large pile of correspondence the principle is: the faster the better.

The authors didn’t always follow the requested guidelines for number of pages (the longest sample was 20 pages), and although Mr. Mysterious didn’t immediately disqualify these writers, he was definitely annoyed and gave a less careful reading.

Out of 300-350 queries, Mr. Mysterious found exactly ONE that went into the YES folder, and 40 into the ?MAYBE? folder. These query samples had skillful writing (voice, characters, settings, etc.). A few maybes were included even though he didn’t like the samples simply because the writer had some good credentials: a former literary agent or previously pubbed by a reputable publisher and/or major magazine. Many of the credentials cited in the queries were trivial or irrelevant. Credentials only mattered to the intern when they were of something/someone he’d heard of.

The agent who was mentoring this intern rejected the YES, and from the maybes requested pages from one and left two others as possibles. The rest were rejected. The accepted ones he didn’t quite remember but doesn’t think they had credentials in their queries. Neither the agent nor Mr. Mysterious liked the query from the writer from whom she requested pages.

I was fascinated to read that Mr. Mysterious found the same terms appearing in many queries. For example, GUARDIAN – there were a lot of guardians in these samples. He didn’t mention what sorts of genres the agent specialized in, but it sounded like YA and adult, science-fiction-y adventure.

Here’s a quote from the intern’s post: “A lot of queries were like, Main Character is just your average kid/just wants to be your average kid, EXCEPT HE SHOOTS LIGHTNING OUT OF HIS BUTT WHEN HE FARTS.

“A lot of queries, especially YA Urban Fantasy queries, read like they’re all written from the same template. Off the top of my head.

“NAME, a [number] teen year old at [school name] has enough to worry about with [insert generic school/teenage problems], without [insert discovery of paranormal abilities, an ancient conflict, discovery of paranormal abilities AND an ancient conflict]. It will be up to Name to [stop conflict, learn to control abilities]. That is, if he doesn’t get [insert fantasy problem and/or generic school/teenage problems,] first.

“Jake, a thirteen year old at Springwood High, has enough to worry about with not making the base ball team and getting dumped by text message, without a sect of ancient warrior chipmunks bringing their civil war to his town of Springwood. As the prophesied Tailless One it will be up to Jake to bring peace to the chipmunks, if he doesn’t get his heart broken by text message again first.”

This intern also found many girl meets boy stories, where the guy is just too amazing for words. After a few too many samples like this he rolled his eyes and passed on all of them.

Another interesting observation is that writers wanted to “start with a bang,” for example a plane crash on the first page. Mr. Mysterious found this stuff not compelling, if not frankly boring. I would take a guess here that this is so because if you (the reader) don’t care about the characters yet, you don’t really care what happens.

Here’s another quote: “As an intern reading the first few pages of your novel, I was about the most detached person in the world from your story. I wasn't doing this for fun. Or as a favor, cause I knew/liked you. I was doing this, because it was my job, and as you may have guessed, a rather monotonous job at that (though certainly not without its rewards and excitement.) What this means is, the world might be ending in your story, but I was sitting there in an office, tired from my commute, hungry cause I skipped breakfast, and with a lot more queries after you to get through. And the world outside my window? Still there.

“As such, your primary goal in those first five (imo) should be to make the reader, be he agent, intern, or prospective buyer, care. If you make the reader care, he'll be hooked whether you drop a bomb on him or not. If you fail to make him care, then no matter how many bombs you drop, they'll all be duds. (lol, couldn't resist.)

There were so many queries that he quickly started looking for reasons to reject. Some of these were:

1. Lots of typos.
2. Grammar or tense issues.
3. Blandness, clichés, not being interesting.

Mr. Mysterious kept reading especially if the samples had Voice and/or Humor. He suspects there are two types of Voices that are professional: an overt or stylized voice that is immediately intriguing, and a subtle or realistic style of voice. Some examples of voice that he gives are:

Overt/Stylized: Coen Brother’s The Big Lebowski, Chuck Palahuik’s Choke, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Doestoevsky’s Notes from The Underground, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian. These overt voices portray exceptional, unique characters with stories that leap off the page.

Subtle/Realistic: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, anything by Hemmingway, John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Orwell's 1984, a lot of classic plays like The Glass Menagerie, and Death of a Salesman. You could imagine someone you see in the supermarket being able to tell these stories. This style often occurs in literary fiction.

5-10 pages for a sample may not be enough to capture this type of subtle voice well, and may not play well to a hurried agent or intern. However, different agents specialize in different genres, so you should look carefully for the type of agent that takes your type of stories.


I find it interesting to think that this intern found himself jaded and impatient after only a few days on the job. Keep this in mind when presenting your story. And thank you, Mr. Mysterious, for your sharp insights into the pubbing biz.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing the Novel Opening

My theory is that most people would prefer to read an exciting book that's poorly written, rather than a book with flawless and subtle writing that doesn't have anything going on. IDEAS are more important than PRESENTATION.

However, in many manuscripts that I've critiqued, and even some published books, while there may be a lot of action at the start I find that I can't identify WHAT IS THE POINT. I'm just watching a bunch of characters doing something. They're obviously very intent about whatever's going on, often with some explosions or characters having terse conversations about "just how critical this is," but for the life of me I can't figure out why. Who are these people? What is at stake? Why should I care?

It's important to remember that the reader doesn't understand your story at all. You need to give him information that HE will find interesting -- if he doesn't already know that the Qarkles (who invaded planet Xonia 5000 years ago) have suddenly contracted a deadly illness so that the Rebel Nymorgs can take over, he won't understand why your hero is poised to take command. Even if you explain this in 3 succinct backstory paragraphs, your reader isn't going to care. Who the heck ever heard of Xonia anyway?

As a writer, you must intrigue your reader right off the bat. He's probably not going to stay with you for more than a few pages unless you can do that. Here are some ideas for opening a novel:

* Only include information that is ESSENTIAL for understanding the immediate events happening right now. Trust me, no one cares about your backstory.

* Don't flip between characters. Identify ONE who your reader will be following. Along those lines, don't put too many characters in, especially in the earlier scenes.

* Open with an intriguing situation that sparks reader curiosity.

* Create an immediate external goal that the reader will be sympathetic to. For better results, add in a ticking clock.

* Make the protagonist's motivation understandable to the reader.

* For goodness' sake, don't open your first chapter with your character drinking tea and thinking about what has just happened to her!

* One of my favorite techniques for opening a book is using a first sentence full of irony or suggestive of an intriguing character or situation. Here are a few as selected by the American Book Review:

Call me Ishmael. - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. - Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. - George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

I am an invisible man. - Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925; trans. Breon Mitchell)

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. —Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)

This is the saddest story I have ever heard. - Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. - Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. - Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. - Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)

124 was spiteful. - Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

Mother died today. - Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942; trans. Stuart Gilbert)

Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. - Ha Jin, Waiting (1999)

Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. "Stop!" cried the groaning old man at last, "Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree." - Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans (1925)

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

All this happened, more or less. - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

They shoot the white girl first. - Toni Morrison, Paradise (1998)

The moment one learns English, complications set in. - Felipe Alfau, Chromos (1990)

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. - Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. - C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) (my personal favorite)

It was the day my grandmother exploded. - Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

It was a pleasure to burn. - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street. - David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress (1988)

It was love at first sight. - Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. - Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

You better not never tell nobody but God. - Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

"To be born again," sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die." - Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog. - Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964)

Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up. - Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear it Away (1960)

When Dick Gibson was a little boy he was not Dick Gibson. - Stanley Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show (1971)

Hiram Clegg, together with his wife Emma and four friends of the faith from Randolph Junction, were summoned by the Spirit and Mrs. Clara Collins, widow of the beloved Nazarene preacher Ely Collins, to West Condon on the weekend of the eighteenth and nineteenth of April, there to await the End of the World. - Robert Coover, The Origin of the Brunists (1966)

"Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. - Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (1956)

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. - L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)

Justice? - You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. - William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own (1994)

Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. - J. G. Ballard, Crash (1973)

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. - Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)

"When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing." - Katherine Dunn, Geek Love (1983)

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. - James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss (1978)

It was just noon that Sunday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole county too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man. - William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (1948)

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot," or "That Claudius," or "Claudius the Stammerer," or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius," am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never since become disentangled. - Robert Graves, I, Claudius (1934)

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women. - Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1990)

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. - Raphael Sabatini, Scaramouche (1921)

Psychics can see the color of time it's blue. - Ronald Sukenick, Blown Away (1986)

In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. - Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. - Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye (1988)

High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. - David Lodge, Changing Places (1975)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


As writers, we have probably all experienced negative responses to our work. Heck, not even writers, everyone gets criticisms from time to time. They can be true and helpful -- as the Bible says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," (Proverbs 27:17) and "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy." (Proverbs 27:6). Sometimes the criticism is motivated out of jealousy or misanthropy. Sometimes the criticizer is simply not qualified to give a good opinion.

Doesn't matter. IMHO the best way to respond to criticism, no matter what, is to say, "thank you." Period. Don't defend yourself, since you're not going to change someone's opinion anyway. Take the words back with you, and study them. Try to maintain an objective stance (it may take a little time to get there). If the words are pointing out something true, then internalize the message and learn from it. If the words aren't relevant, for whatever reason, then discard them.

This is difficult of course. I have learned that when someone criticizes my manuscript, often what they think is wrong isn't the problem. For example, it may not be a character issue but simply that I'm truncating an emotional scene. However there is probably SOMETHING there. When more than one person points to the same passage, I scrutinize it with a microscope. I am so grateful for the comments that people have given me to help improve my writing. Even the mean ones can be helpful.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Power of the Withhold

The Power of The Withhold

The three essential story elements are GOAL, STAKES, and OBSTACLES.

Goal -- the main driving force of the story, answered by a yes or no.
Stakes -- why achieving the goal is so important.
Obstacles -- things or people that get in the way of the character's achieving his goal.

Without obstacles, story doesn't have TENSION. Obstacles can be internal -- within the character, things such as emotions or lack of knowledge. External obstacles are in the story world -- physical barriers, other people, and so forth.

A good general technique to use when developing tension is the WITHHOLD. Remember that your character has many goals, desires, and dreams, and these will be pushing the story forward either directly or indirectly. Frustration in achieving one or more things develops tension and keeps the reader riveted to your story.

What can you withhold?

A common withhold is INFORMATIONAL WITHHOLD. Your main character needs to know something -- the location of something, or a vital key to the puzzle -- that is not forthcoming.

Another common withhold is OBJECT WITHHOLD. The character is trying to catch something -- a person on a train, a paper that keeps being carried off -- and always finds he has to do just *one more thing* to get it.

Note that with these two types of withholds (information, object) you can prolong the search for awhile, but make sure you don't tease the reader too long. It gets annoying. As you prolong the search you must always remember to raise the stakes, put more in jeopardy, and change the nature of the search so that it doesn't become the same old same old.

A third category of the withhold that can be used to create sympathy even for an unlikeable character is the EMOTIONAL WITHHOLD. Your character has an emotional need -- freedom from fear, true love, righteous duty -- that is consistently frustrated. Unlike the information or object withholds, this type of withhold CAN continue unchanged, with repeated incidences, throughout the story. It becomes rocket fuel for the reader to root for righteous causes, or even in a twisted way for unsavory actions to succeed, as he hopes against hope that before the end of the story the character's emotional pain might be extinguished.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Writer's Block

Say nana nana boo boo to writer's block. Just show up today, and write.