The Writer’s Nest 2016

A Full-Day Workshop on World Building for Fiction Writers!

Creating the Fictional World

Join me for Creating the Fictional World at the Writer’s Nest Mini-Conference April 30, 2016 in Altamonte Springs, Florida. I’ve put together a world-building workshop for fiction writers in all genres.

Florida Writers Association

World building is an essential skill for any author writing in any genre. I’m all about reader experience, and the reader’s experience depends on the believability of the world in which the story takes place.

“In a world where…”

We’ve all heard that line at the beginning of a movie trailer or book pitch. It’s the quintessential world-building summary, the proof that world building and premise go hand in hand. Authors in this workshop will explore the components of a believable fictional world including the physical setting, the fictional society, the belief systems and values of the characters, and special physics related to magic, technology, and the supernatural.

How do you introduce readers to a complex new world without overwhelming them with information or leaving them confused? This workshop will help authors develop a realistic context that is so organic to the story that readers won’t think twice; they’ll enjoy the ride.

In Creating the Fictional World, we learn how to spot and avoid common world-building pitfalls that stop readers cold. Authors in this workshop will create an immersive experience to keep readers hooked and turning pages. We will also cover stylistic techniques to imbue fictional worlds with the depth of real life.

FWA LogoThree things attendees will learn:

  1. How to create a believable world
  2. How to avoid world-building pitfalls
  3. The key components of a created world

Sign up for The Writer’s Nest Mini-Conference

Altamonte Springs, Florida, April 30, 2016

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Seven Common Mistakes Authors Make and How to Fix Them

improveRecently, I was asked to speak to a group of accomplished mystery writers about the kinds of mistakes that could derail an otherwise good story. These seven mistakes in mindset are the gist of that talk.

The point in telling a story is to convey an experience to the reader.

Communication via text doesn’t afford writers with the luxury of gauging audience reaction on the fly. To compensate for this we seek out advanced readers and editors to help hone our craft. While that type of feedback is valuable, picturing an ideal reader, a target audience of one, can focus the story in a way that multiple sources of feedback cannot. Once you know who you are writing for, avoiding these seven pitfalls becomes easier.

1. Being fuzzy about what the story is about. This is normal in a first draft, especially in the beginning when you are still working it out for yourself as you write, but needs to be addressed in the second pass. Draw a big picture. Give the reader an idea of what to expect up front by setting the tone and the mood of the story from the opening scene. Set expectations. The end is in the beginning, the beginning is in the end. They are the bookends of your story and should match.

2. Not realizing that a good deal of what you want to convey to the reader will be lost in translation. Readers skim, get distracted, get interrupted, or put the book down in the chapters. Some readers absolutely will enjoy picking up on the subtleties of your character development. But many others may never figure out which character is which. Draw bigger than life, easily recognizable characters. Each character should have a unique voice, their own desires, and be the hero of their own story. Even unnamed characters can be created to be memorable. One author described story as a frosted window. Some of what the author wishes to convey to the reader gets lost in translation. Make features so colorful and distinguishing that even through the frosted window of story, the characters convey to the reader. Only name important characters who appear more than once in the story.

3. Thinking that the reader is interested in more than just the story.

Keep it simple. Don’t introduce material that isn’t necessary to the story, be it setting, characters, or even entire scenes and chapters. Everything else is off topic.

One important distinction is that authors like Tom Clancy and James Michener made the story about the technology or the history, so in that case it was an important element of the story that readers were expecting. The descriptions of the whales in Moby Dick were arguably padding acceptable in a time when authors were paid by the word. Melville probably wanted to get paid for all that research he did. Don’t be that guy.

To aid in deciding what to leave in and what to leave out, write a one sentence summary of your story. Make sure that everything in the story supports the premise in that summary.

On a related note: Dramatize Key events; summarize or skip the less important bits to keep the story moving. Fold description into action or dialogue, or even into verb choice and keep it as brief as possible.

4. Hyper-focusing on action and leaving out the responses.

Include emotional responses to reveal your characters’ motivations to the reader. This fits easily in Romance novels, but in other genres, authors have to work hard to make sure the viewpoints characters feelings and thoughts about the story events appear on the page are not left up to the reader to assume.

Make sure you include a bit of reaction to each event in the story. This will be woven into your scenes: Stimulus—Response. It will also appear in the sequels or narrative that connect the scenes of the story. Reaction shows the where the story will go next, and is a useful motivator leading into the next scene.

5. Telling the story in a linear fashion.

boy writingRaise questions in the reader’s minds. String them along before answering. Keep secrets, but hint at their existence. When stuck, brainstorm five things that could happen, and choose the worst one for the character. Make the problems so difficult and unpredictable for that the reader can’t wait to find out what happens. Lay in a subtle setup for seemingly out of the blue events so that they seem familiar if not inevitable while remaining unexpected.

6. Not immersing the reader in the experience.

This is often another “lost in translation” issue. As authors we see clearly what is happening in the story as it is generated in our imagination. Translating a sense of being-there is a little more complex than writing the scene as we see it in our mind’s eye. We have to slow down and inventory the setting to create ways to put the reader into the story even more fully that we first imagined the scene.

  • Use all five senses plus anticipation and emotion setups. Think the Star Wars garbage compactor scene.
  • Attach emotional significance to objects, people, or words as the story builds. A not-so-subtle example is G. R. R. Martin’s phrase “Winter in Coming.”
  • Also consider using an immediate voice.

7. Falling in love with beautiful language.

Write for clarity, not beauty. It’s surprising how few literary devices you need for readers to comment on the writing quality. Use too many similes and metaphors, and they loose their punch. Like cayenne pepper, a little figurative language goes a long way. Trust that form will follow function.

A few hints on technique:

  • Make verbs do the heavy lifting for the clearest, most powerful fiction.
  • Use sentence length and complexity to moderate tone and pace. Reel the reader along. Short sentences convey urgency. Throw in detailed description when you want to ratchet the tension or, in less tense situations, when you want give the reader a rest.
  • Write short, eliminating needless words and phrases.
  • End sentences with strong words.
  • Keep analogies fresh, clear, and fitting to the overall tone.
  • Create images and sensations in the reader’s mind: Language is the writer’s tool and clay. Use it well.
  • Aim to give the reader a pleasurable experience by making the text easy to comprehend and brilliantly clear.

Each of these tips could be an entire session in and of itself. Recognizing any of these lapses in your writing will give you the power to fix them.

Happy Writing!  –Kate

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Mystery Writers of America Central Florida Writers Workshop

FMWALogo-2On Saturday, January 9th, I’ll be speaking to the Mystery Writers of America’s Central Florida Group at the Mr. Dora public library. Dallas Gorham, the group’s leader, asked that I give an overview of the most common mistakes writers make, so I’ve pulled together something special. Drawing on my experiences as an editor, creative writing teacher, and writing coach, I came up with an hour-long workshop: Seven Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Avoid Them. I’ve  distilled the essential mindset needed to write great stories down to a few fundamentals–seven, to be exact, and will share them with the MWA group this Saturday. The meeting is at 10:30 a.m. and open to anyone with an interest in crime writing, whether Mystery or Thriller. If you are in the Lake, Orange, or Seminole County area, I hope to see you there.

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Wattpad Update

It’s been a while since I posted about my Wattpad experience. In part, that’s because it’s taken a while to decide whether posting on Wattpad was a positive experience and partly because I’ve been deep into the writing process for my next book, Rook. A couple excerpts are up on Wattpad if you’d like to take a look.

The novel I’m posting on Wattpad keeps plugging away gaining new readers every week, but not with the intensity that it saw at the beginning. Wattpad made some changes and now readers have to stay on the page longer before the system registers their view as a read. A couple of the installments of my book are so short that when I first read them, my read didn’t get counted. Now I’m making sure that each installment is a little longer to avoid that problem.

Overall, my impressions of Wattpad are mixed. Wattpad is an excellent reading platform for discovering new works and authors. Readers can easily switch between viewing a story on their computers and smartphones. It has a search engine that can find whatever type of read you enjoy and there is plenty of material to choose from, all free and much of it very well written. Wattpad has an exciting mix of developing and professional authors, fresh voices and some very cool stories.

The social part of Wattpad is home to wonderfully supportive community of readers and authors. Book clubs and boards provide plenty of opportunity to connect with other authors and the people I’ve met have all been positive, helpful and kind in their reviews and comments. I’d give the community an A+.

On the downside, from an author’s perspective, I have found it frustrating to deal with the inconsistencies and the problems with the interface. Many of those issues have been touched on in previous posts so I’ll not go into them here. It seems that the company is trying to make things better–kudos for that.

 

My original intent was to see if writing and publishing serially improved my writing. For the genre I write, a fantasy-thriller-romance mashup, the serial nature of Wattpad makes a lot of sense. I caught myself tweaking the endings of each scene I posted to make the hook as strong as possible going into the next installment. The beginnings also sometimes needed a minor change to bring the reader back into the story, keeping in mind that the installments are each posted several days apart (although some readers read straight through the existing posted content). These considerations probably contributed to a stronger story overall. And it’s been a blast to read the reader reactions to each scene, which again points to the wonderful community on Wattpad. For that reason more than any other, I’d recommend it for authors who don’t mind posting some of their work for free.

As for the following on Wattpad translating to sales on other platforms, my experience is that the crossover is minimal. The plus side to that is I’m not losing sales from paid platforms because a version of the story is free on Wattpad. And who knows, maybe some of the readers on Wattpad will enjoy Rosamond Eternal enough to purchase Rook.

I will continue to post installments to the Wattpad version of The Jaguar Key, Rosamond Eternal with occasional updates here. If you haven’t been on Wattpad yet, it only takes a couple seconds to make an account and access a world of free and interesting stories. Thanks for reading!

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D.E.A.R. Drop Everything and Read

DEAR3

DEARIn honor of children’s author Beverly Cleary’s birthday, Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) day is April 12. What a wonderful day to ignore the chores and focus on something more important, like reading with a child or sharing books with people who can’t afford them.

To help celebrate with my friends at FSFNet.com, I’m offering my books for 99¢ or less beginning Thursday, April 9, 2015. That’s all e-books on all platforms.

Let’s promote literacy and the art of creative loafing together!

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Rook on Wattpad

Rook Cover eBookDespite the Wattpad issues with the tags falling off my stories, I’m giving Wattpad another shot. This time with a sample of my new novel, Rook. I added the first scene as a Friday evening. If you would like to check it out Click on This Link. Together, we will see how this book does compared to the other.

In other news, the last two installments of Rosamond Eternal saw a sharp decline in the number of reads. I think this is because the tags on the story keep disappearing at seemingly random times. Wattpad says this is a known issue and they are working on it. While I wait for that fix, I am checking the story each day to make sure it still has tags. Without the tags, the story won’t come up in many searches so readers will have a harder time finding it.

After the tags came off a couple times, the story fell off the top 1000. A few days later it regained its lost position and moved back up to #747.

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Wattpad Frustration

Wattpad seems to be experiencing issues.

I’d like to be able to report that all is well with Wattpad, and a couple days ago I would have said just that. The number of reads for each new posting were higher than the previous posting. That seemed counterintuitive to me, but somehow people were finding more story. No complaints.

All that ended on Thursday. The story I posted on Thursday received 20 something reads compared to 140 for the previous installment, and that despite more retweets of the Twitter announcement than any other installment so far.

I let it sit for a couple days, feeling that Wattpad would eventually sort itself out.

Other anomalies have occurred while I’ve been Wattpad. For instance, about a week ago, all the most popular books dropped off the Fantasy genre hot list for several hours to be replaced by books with much less popularity. The same happened for some other genres. At that time, my book moved into the 300s in the rankings. Once things were restored to order, my book landed back at #807 where it had been before and where it remains.

Today there still hadn’t been much of an improvement in the number of reads. It made no sense that the story just stopped garnering reads.

Then I noticed that all the tags had been removed from my story. While that may not seem like a significant problem, many of the search functions in Wattpad rely on tags. Without them, there was little chance that the story would be seen by anyone other my followers. The silver lining in all this is that I now understand a little better how readers find my story on Wattpad.

The user interface on Wattpad also received a reworking in the past few days. Maybe that has something to do with all the flukiness I’ve seen recently. I can’t imagine how that could cause the missing tags. However, if you are an author on Wattpad, you should check to make sure your story still has any tags you set up.

The biggest frustration has been finding announcements from Wattpad of any problems on the site. I’ve checked the clubs, the help pages on the website, the blog, the Wattpad Twitter feed, and Facebook. It seems that Wattpad very rarely communicates with its users about problems. A notice saying that they are resolving issues would have gone a long way to allay my concerns. Absent that, a forum where interface and server issues are discussed could help. If you know of such a place that I overlooked, please let me know in the comments.

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How to Get your Book Noticed on Wattpad, and How Not To

Today’s post is taken mainly from a conversation I had with a writer/friend I met on Wattpad. He wanted to know how my book was doing so well, so quickly.

First, it was news to me that my book was doing well in comparison to another author’s book, one which I am truly enjoying reading and consider to be well written and entertaining.

How is it that a story with such strong hooks, interesting characters, compelling ideas, and plenty of action could languish unnoticed on Wattpad for the better part of a year?

This made me think a little more deeply on the matter. I wish I knew the answer to his question, which at it’s root was “what I had done differently?” As I’ve said here before, I announce each update on Twitter and sometimes on Facebook, but I don’t get many people clicking through from there (if any).

At first I thought linking to the story from this website, FB, and Twitter might have contributed to the read count. Then, the one time I had the most reads, I forgot to tweet about the update for several hours and still had a jump in reads. Another time, I tweeted and had almost no reads.

The very first part of my story published received over a hundred reads within the first few hours. I don’t know why. I’ve seen stories that have been on much longer with fewer than 50 reads.

My best guess is most reads come from inside Wattpad. I’ve been exploring the site and commenting in the forums. I followed a few people other writers whose books interested me. I read the first chapters and commented and voted if I enjoyed the reading. That’s about it.

The biggest contribution to the number of reads probably came from posting the story/cover on the Fantasy forum’s self-promotion board, followed closely by just being helpful when people ask questions I can answer.

In the process, I’ve also caught a glimpse of the dark underbelly of Wattpad: someone asked me to do a vote for a vote program. The requester called it her “help a wattpadian campaign.” In essence, I should vote for her story installments and she would vote for mine. Gaming the system like that is wrong and I’m pretty sure it’s against the terms of service. I personally wouldn’t vote for or comment on works that I don’t like anyway; votes and comments are personal endorsements. I didn’t respond to the request.

If personal integrity isn’t enough to keep authors honest on Wattpad, here’s another thought:

By not gaming the system, when our stories get reads and votes, we know it’s because they appealed to a reader, not because someone wanted something from us.

To me, that is very important. Wattpad is a personal challenge: “How can I write that will engage readers?”

I want to be able to see how readers respond to each installment that I post. The bottom line questions are, “was the last installment compelling enough for readers to come back?” and, “was the current installment engaging enough to garner a few comments and votes?” Vote trading would undermine the utility of Wattpad in answering those questions and devalue the amazing metrics Wattpad provides.

If you post a story on Wattpad, my best recommendation is to become active in the Wattpad community. Read other works and vote and comment if you like something. Take part in the clubs. Not only will readers be more likely to notice your work but you may become friends with other Wattpad authors and readers, people who will enrich your experience and your life.

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A Surprisingly Useful Feature of Wattpad

I just discovered something about Wattpad and was so excited that I couldn’t wait until Monday to tell you about it. My story finally has enough readers on Wattpad that the metrics have kicked in. And, Wow! Presenting the demographics of readers is something Wattpad is doing very well. The new beta version of their analytics shows who is reading the story broken down by age and gender. Plus a cool color-coded map of the world shows what regions a story’s readers hail from. Hovering over each region shows the percent of readers from that location. Another screen tracks engagement for each posted part of the story, showing comments, unique readers and such. A third tab tracks readers by date. I don’t know where else I could find such detailed information about my story’s readers.

One metric really surprised me. Approximately 63% of my readers are female. Since I posted the story in the Fantasy genre, I expected the gender ratio to be closer to 50:50. That’s interesting enough that it may affect who I picture as my ideal reader as I write the sequels. Good stuff. Thank you, Wattpad!

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Encouragement

Rolling Along

I’m feeling a lot more positive about Wattpad today. My number of reads went up to 999 last night and haven’t budged since. The lack of movement isn’t bothering me. I am finally starting to get a feel for Wattpad. Instead of a steady progression, it seems that things sometimes come to a screeching halt like a freight train rolling into a station. In a few hours or after the next post, the reads and comments start rolling again. And Thursdays are generally unpredictable.

The same with falling off the ranking list. The story has been off and on and off. If things continue as they have been, The Jaguar Key will be back on the rankings on Monday or Tuesday. I don’t know what the ranking does for the story, but it’s a nice little bit of bling on the story page. “Number 810 in Fantasy.” Sounds good.
Screenshot 2015-03-05 11.24.02

Another reason I’m feel better about Wattpad is that I’m getting more engagement with the story. New people follow me every day and a few comment on the story. The comments are not critiques in general. They are more of the nature of, “Oh, I loved it when so and so did such and such,” or “the tension is killing me.” Those kinds of comments are good feedback–it’s helpful to know what works.

Hooks and Endings

Something else that’s working is that with each posting, I’m checking that the scene ends with a hook. So far, so good. Right before I sent the book to the proofreader, I checked each scene for a hook to lead into the next scene. I wasn’t thinking of something strong enough to entice a reader to pick up the story days later, but so far that hasn’t been an issue. Not a single scene has needed revision to add or strengthen its ending. As the story progresses, I’m sure there will be a few revisions, but for now, the Wattpad version is almost identical to the published version.

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