Thursday, September 24, 2020

6 Different Book Formats

It takes a different type of runner to excel in the 50-yard dash than it does to excel in the ultra marathon. The difference is in the format. Some runners like to run short sprints, while others can go the distance for hours on end.

Just as there are different race distances (100-meter, 1-mile, 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, and ultras), there are different book formats too. 






A book’s (or a writer’s) audience is simply the age of the reader. 

Genre is the category of the book, based on story elements, setting, and location.

The format of a book is different from the audience and genre categories. The following list is an example of a few different book formats. When writing your own book, the audience and genre are the two you should focus on. Format is more of the way in which you write your story or the way in which it is printed.






Board Books

  • Board books are typically meant for babies ages 0-2. Sometimes they are picture books that later get turned into a board book format. It is a very difficult market to break into. Most board books are developed in house.

Rhyming Picture Books

  • Since picture books aren’t typically categorized by genres, per se, any “genre” (contemporary, historical, fiction, nonfiction, humans, animals, etc) can be either rhyming or in prose. Most editors say they aren’t looking for rhyme since it’s difficult to do it well.

Graphic Novels

  • Most graphic novels are for children and tend to run in the MG range. This is a format and not a genre (though some would disagree). Stories can employ any of the genres: contemporary, historical, mystery, coming of age, fantasy, even super heroes.

Novels in Verse

  • Similar in nature to a rhyming PB, novels written in verse are becoming more and more popular. The story itself can fit into any of the genres available for novels. It’s a popular YA option, though most novels are definitely written in prose.

Hardback Books

  • Most new books are released in hardback. This is across the board for PB, MG, novels, fiction, and nonfiction. This is a very easy-to-understand book format.

Paperback Books

  • Most paperback books are released after the hardback edition.


Keep on keepin' on... 

Friday, September 18, 2020

What Audience Are You Writing For?

One Saturday morning, I went for a run and ended up with a very unique audience that day. No, I wasn’t running in a race with hundreds of spectators dressed in costume.

After I hit the 2-mile mark, I turned around to head back home for a total of 4 miles that day. When I hit the 3-mile mark, there were about 16 wild eyes staring at me. There were eight black-bellied barbados sheep watching me run up the hill beside their fenced-in area. It was a little odd and slightly humorous. Too bad I didn’t have my camera that day. 






It made me think about audiences for writers, though. As writers, it’s very important to who you’re writing for. You wouldn’t write about adultery for a 5-year-old. But what about cheating? Would you write about that for an 8-year-old reader?

Audience is the age group of your readership. Children’s books are 0-17. Adult books are 18+. Children’s books are divided into four main categories. These are guidelines, though there are always exceptions.

You could also include Board Books (BB) for babies age 0-2; and Early Readers (ER) for children age 5-8. Notice how the ages overlap. That’s because children don’t develop linguistically at the same rate. It takes time to develop a strong independent reader.

Use this Writer’s Audience Guide to help you decide not only who your audience is, but also the age of your characters and how many words you’ll need to write. 






Picture Books (PB)

  • Age of reader: All ages (Typically meant to be read aloud to 4-8 year olds.)
  • Age of character: All ages (Usually 5-10 year olds.)
  • Word length range: 0 to 1,000+ (Sweet spot is 500 to 800.)

Chapter Books (CB)

  • Age of reader: 7-9
  • Age of character: 7-10
  • Word length range: 4,000 to 15,000 (Average length is 6,000 to 10,000.) 
  • Popular genres: Contemporary, Historical, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery

Middle Grade (MG)

  • Age of reader: 9-12
  • Age of character: 10-12
  • Word length range: 20,000 to 55,000
  • Popular genres: Contemporary, Coming of Age, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Young Adult (YA)

  • Age of reader: 12-17
  • Age of character: 14-17 
  • Word length range: 55,000 to 80,000
  • Popular genres: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian

New Adult (NA)

    This is a fairly new (and very small) subcategory of Adult fiction.
    • Age of reader: 17-22 (Usually independent women entering their 20s.) 
    • Age of character: 18-30 
    • Word length range: 55,000 to 80,000
    • Popular genres/topics: Romance, College, Career, Identity

    Adult (A)

    • Age of reader: 18+
    • Age of character: 21+
    • Word length range: Novella (20k-50k). Standard (70k-90k). Epic (100k+).
    • Popular genres: All


    Keep on keepin' on... 

    Friday, September 4, 2020

    Plot Arc Summary for Sing, the Movie

    When the computer-animated musical comedy, Sing, came out in 2016, my kids watched it without me. They were 12 and 14 and loved it. Especially my daughter. Once it became available on Netflix, she watched it multiple times before I even saw it once, which is her typical movie-watching habit. 

    So needless to say that when I finally got around to watching Sing too, I loved it just as much as she did. I even took notes so I could share the basic plot structure with you!


    when I finally got around to watching Sing too, I loved it just as much as my daughter did. I even took notes so I could share the basic plot structure with you!


    Summary


    A group of talking animals enters a singing competition hosted by a koala who is trying to save his theatre.

     

    Characters


    This is not a list of all the characters, but it will give you a small idea of what kind of showstopper this is.

    BUSTER MOON. The main character is a koala who is trying to save the run-down theatre he inherited from his father.

    MISS CRAWLY. Buster's administrative assistant, an elderly iguana with a glass eye.

    EDDIE NOODLEMAN. A sheep and Buster's best friend who doubts the future of Buster’s theater.

    NANA NOODLEMAN. A sheep and Eddie's grandmother who was a famous singer back in the day.

    ROSITA. A pig who gave up her music dreams to become a devoted wife and mother of 25 piglets.

    JOHNNY. A teenage gorilla who wants to sing, despite his father grooming him for the family business (the mafia).

    MEENA. A teenage elephant with an amazing voice, but she also has severe stage fright.



    Plot



    THE SIGNUP. Miss Crawley writes up the announcement for the singing competition and her glass eye pops out of her head and lands on the typewriter, adding two extra zeros to the amount of prize money up for grabs.

    Without this plot point, there would be no story.

    THE GUNSHOT. Mr. Moon (Buster) tells the cast members to get a good night’s rest, despite now knowing the error about the prize money amount.

    Buster is in it for the long haul. He knows the risks and chooses to move forward with his plan.

    THE HALFWAY POINT. Mr. Moon fixes up the theatre to make it awesome for Nana Noodeman, in an effort to gain her support and endorsement.

    Buster makes progress, but then he hits “the wall.”

    THE WALL. When the theatre floods, it completely collapses. The bank takes over the property. Buster moves in with his friend, Eddie, who is living in his parents’ pool house. All the characters are at an all-time low. 

    Mr. Moon sees no way of saving his ruined theatre and accepts the fact that his life’s dreams are crushed forever. But wait...

    THE FINISH LINE. Mina the elephant sings the finale at the newly refurbished open air theatre and the performance is packed.


    Clearly, these are just the highlights. There’s a LOT of action that happens to get to each of these plot points. But seeing the structure in this story can help you pinpoint the five main plot points in your own stories. 


    If you liked this post, you’ll also enjoy the other summaries in the Plot Arc Library

    Share this post on social!


    Keep on keepin' on... 

    Tuesday, August 25, 2020

    The 3rd Commandment for Writers

    Everyone agrees that stealing is wrong, except for maybe those who do it and try to get away with it. Even still, deep down, they know. But then there’s Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. I’m not going to debate the philosophy of Robin Hood today though. At any rate, I digress.

    We already established that if you write, you are a writer. Today, I’m sharing the third commandment for writers with you: Thou shalt not take books from the library and never return them. 

    We borrow library books so that we can read and not have to buy the books.

    Borrowed Library Books

    As writers, we love the library! We love bookstores and anything to do with books. To borrow a book - or more often than not, a stack of books - from the library means that we get to read lots of extra cool words for a few weeks. And then return them. 

    We borrow library books so that we can read and not have to buy the books. Maybe we like the book so much that we end up buying it after all. The library allows us to preview potential purchases, if you will. But not returning the books and paying compounded late fees over several months is not the same thing as buying them. If you want to buy the books, then order them online or go to a bookstore. And absolutely… return the library books!

    Borrowed Words

    On the other hand, as writers, “stealing” is the best form of flattery, right? What I mean by this is that writers often “copy” the writers we admire and hope to emulate. Of course, we always want to develop our own voice. So definitely never plagiarize. 

    You can always use the books you borrow from the library to incorporate into a writing exercise. That’s basically what I did on a very scaled-down version with the Ten Commandments. I took “thou shalt not steal” and turned it into “thou shalt not take books from the library and never return them.” Simply use a paragraph you love and substitute different nouns, verbs, adjectives in place of the current ones and you just mentored an existing writing text! 

    Using another author's words as a mentor text is not the same thing as comparing yourself to other writers. Be sure you don't fall into that trap.

    QUESTION: Let me know if you’re a library book thief. I promise I won’t report you to the authorities. Have you ever NOT returned a library book - and not because you lost it? Let me know in the comments! Keep on keepin' on... 

    Monday, August 10, 2020

    Writing Commandment #2


    Some people think writing rules are “bad”. But these writing rules are different. It’s more of a creed to live by. Writing mantras to inspire you to be your best self.


    If You Write, You Are a Writer


    What does it even mean to be a writer? The simplest definition is that if you write, you are a writer. Same goes for running. If you run, you’re a runner. You don’t have to be a sponsored Olympic athlete to call yourself a runner. Runner isn’t based on speed either. If your feet are in the air at the same time, you’re a runner. So what about writing?

    If you’re not published, are you still considered a writer? If you don’t have a medical degree, can you call yourself a doctor? And then there’s the whole “writer vs. author” debate. Authors are published. Some say that authors are writers who HAVE WRITTEN. But that writers continue to write. So some prefer “writer” and others prefer “author”.

    Personally, I believe that all authors are also writers, especially if you continue to write. If you stick to the “have written” definition, then a writer who only published one or two books may be an author, but not a writer.

    No matter how you look at it, if you write, you’re a writer.

    How to Write More


    Did you see my post about how to do things when you don’t feel like it? My two best tips for how to write more are to:
    1. Put it on your calendar. 
    2. Think about your story.
    Put it on your calendar. It could be 10 minutes a day, or 1 hour a week. Either way, when you look at the “event” on your calendar, you’ll get more excited about and look forward to it. Schedule your writing time and it will help you to actually write more often and more consistently.

    Think about your story. Talk about your story. Get excited about writing the next scene. When you have the next scene in mind, it’s easier to get started and even to write more during that writing session.


    Dream Big


    Lastly, it’s fun to dream big. As a writer, you might dream of writing like another author (or not), being a NYT Bestselling Author, or getting a traditional publishing deal. Maybe you want your next book to be a bigger advance. Maybe you dream of being on TV. Or teaching a workshop. Or doing school visits. There are LOTS of ways to dream about success as a writer.

    Whatever success looks like for you as a writer, dream big! Start by finishing your manuscript. Then dream as big as you can and write it down. Talk about it. See yourself in the future living your dreams. Because you are a writer and you deserve it!

    QUESTION: What's one of YOUR big writing dreams? I'd love for you to share it with me! Let me know in the comments.

    Keep on keepin' on...

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    Monday, August 3, 2020

    10 Commandments for the Writer


    So you’re a writer, huh? Over the years, I have developed a set of rules to follow to help you keep your head in the game. Because if you know anything at all about writing, you know that it’s easy to STOP. And if you stop writing?

    Well… you’re not being a very good writer. Today, I share with you the first commandment for writers.


    Writer Commandment #1


    The first rule of writing is this: Thou shalt have no comparisons of thyself to other writers. A story is a story.

    Basically, you’re the only writer you need to worry about. Yes, studying the “greats” is a good way to learn the writing craft, but be careful to not compare your worst to their best. We all have to start somewhere.

    The Comparison Trap


    Keep your eyes on your own paper. The only person you should compare yourself against is the person you were yesterday.

    I know it’s easy to read a book and say, “I wish I could write like that.” Or to see another writer’s success and say, “Wow. I wonder when it’s going to be my turn to get published.”

    But that’s not healthy. Here’s why.

    Comparing yourself to others takes your eyes off your own goals. If you want to reach your goals, if you have to keep your eye on the prize.

    When you start comparing where you’re at to where others are at, it can make you feel bad about how you’re doing.

    You can always find other writers who seem to be happier, faster, more productive, more successful, etc. When you fall into the comparison trap, you can become envious, have low self-confidence, or even get depressed.

    When you look inward, you’ll be able to focus on yourself, your own writing, your own journey, and begin to see your own progress.

    So how do you stop comparing yourself to the writer next door?


    Learn how to Obey the First Rule of Writing


    When you can get past not comparing yourself to other writers, your confidence will begin to soar. Follow these 7 tips to stop this bad habit before it begins.

    1. Work on your own craft.
    2. Accept where you are.
    3. Love your past.
    4. Be grateful for what you have.
    5. Progress, not perfection.
    6. Rewrite your own story.
    7. Turn comparison into inspiration.

    Working on your own craft is one way to accept where you are. You’ll never reach your goals if you don’t learn the skills. So practice the writing craft to hone your skills.

    Accept the fact that all writers are on the same journey. There is room for all of us. One publication doesn’t make you successful. And it definitely doesn’t guarantee a second one.

    When you can love your past and find the power of seeing who you are and all you’ve experienced and learned, you will be much happier as you continue your writing journey.

    Gratitude is so much more powerful than most people think. Being grateful for what you have invites more things into your life to be grateful for. This is one of the best ways to ward of the green monster of envy.

    Your journey is all about progress, not perfection. Remember to enjoy the journey and to only compare yourself to where you’ve been. When you do that, you’ll see progress every single time. The journey is the reward. And when you reach “The End” it will be all the sweeter.

    If the stories you’re telling yourself are that you’re not good enough or that you’ll never make it as a writer, then I invite you to rewrite those stories right now. Be sure to include feelings of strength, empowerment, confidence, optimism, hope, joy, and plenty of progress.

    Lastly, you can always turn comparison into inspiration. Remember that other writers’ triumphs didn’t happen overnight. So don’t compare yourself in the beginning or middle stages to their amazing achievements. Let it inspire you! Remember that they had to start at the beginning too. It should be a great reminder for what’s possible for you too.

    We all have to start somewhere, just not with a comparison. So give yourself a pep talk and be your own best cheerleader.

    “Thou shalt have no comparisons of thyself to other writers.”

    QUESTION: What's one accomplishment you've made as a writer? Let's share our collective progress in the comments!

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    Monday, July 27, 2020

    Plot Arc Summary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

    Are you a Harry Potter fan? If so, this 5-point plot synopsis may interest you, especially if you're also a writer. There’s a little bit of disagreement around how others define them, but this is my take. The Marathon Method of Plotting is the easiest way to break down plot and analyze any story.



    Harry Potter 5-point plot synopsis.



    The Signup


    A mysterious letter arrives for Harry, but he is not allowed to open it. More letters continue to arrive in the days before his 11th birthday, though he is prevented from opening any of them.

    If Harry had never received the letter, there would be no story.


    The Gunshot


    Harry boards the train at King’s Cross Station at Platform 9¾ to go to Hogwarts.

    When Harry takes a leap of faith to board the train to Hogwarts, his journey begins.


    The Halfway Point


    Harry, Ron, and Hermione discover a three-headed dog, and Hermione points out that it was guarding a trap door to something.

    This is a hingepoint in the story and now they want to know what is hiding down there.


    The Wall


    Harry is almost seized by Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, but a centaur saves him.

    This is Harry’s lowest point, even lying on the ground, nearly at the mercy of Lord Voldemort. But the centaur’s rescue does not end the book or solve the main problem, so Harry still has a bit of work to do.


    The Finish Line


    Harry lies to Quirrel about what he sees in the mirror. He defeats Quirrel by touching him, and Quirrel’s skin burns on contact.

    Defeating Quirrel, Voldemort’s human host, releases Voldemort back into spirit form and Harry is safe… for now.

    For more plot summaries, see my Plot Arc Library.

    QUESTION: What's your favorite scene in this Harry Potter book? I know it's hard to choose; there are so many good ones! I love the snake scene at the zoo and also the sorting hat. Leave a comment and let me know!



    Outline Your Own Novel with the 5 Main Plot Points





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    Tuesday, July 21, 2020

    Plot Arc Summary of The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson


    I found this book at a Scholastic Book Fair (among others) held at my children’s elementary school years ago. When I read the back-cover copy, I was intrigued and subsequently purchased the book. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson has been called an Ocean’s Eleven book for kids.



    I found this book at a Scholastic Book Fair held at my children’s elementary school years ago. When I read the back-cover copy, I was intrigued and subsequently purchased the book. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson has been called an Ocean’s Eleven book for kids.



    Book Summary:


    This summary comes from the Scholastic website.

    Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it, but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.

    So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby's respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school's greatest con ever, one worthy of the name The Great Greene Heist.

    The following actions represent the novel’s five main plot points. When you think about the plot, think about how it applies to running a marathon.

    The Signup


    Jackson’s friend, Hashemi (Hash) suggests there’s another way for Gaby to win, then specifically asks Jackson if he has a plan. Without this invitation to help Gaby, there would not have been a story to tell.

    The Gunshot


    On the way to study hall, Jackson slipped Charlie a note: “I have a plan.” Jackson finally accepted the call to action and began his journey to help Gaby win the election.

    The Halfway Point


    Victor borrows the keys to the art supply closet to take pictures of all the keys so that they could have a way to “hack” the Gutenbabel 4200. This represents significant progress toward the plan.



    Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot





    The Wall


    Jackson is getting grilled by the friendly security guard, Mr. James. Jackson calls “CODE RED” because he sees no way out. He has hit rock bottom.

    The Finish Line


    When Gaby runs up Jackson in the gym at the school formal, he pockets his phone in HER jacket so that he wouldn’t be caught with his cell phone. Gaby has won the election and Jackson didn’t get caught. The final chapter explains how they pulled it off.

    I recently found out about the SEQUEL: TO CATCH A CHEAT!

    Jackson receives a link to a faked security video that seems to show him and the rest of Gang Greene flooding the school gym. The jerks behind the video threaten to pass it to the principal — unless Jackson steals an advance copy of the school’s toughest exam.

    QUESTION: Have you seen Ocean’s 11? The original 1960 version was directed by Lewis Milestone. The remake of Ocean’s Eleven was made in 2001, starring George Clooney. Let me know in the comments!

    To see more posts like this, visit the Plot Arc Library!


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    Monday, July 6, 2020

    3 Best Ways to Find an Agent

    If you’ve written a manuscript and it’s been vetted by a critique group or several beta readers, then you might be ready to start looking for a literary agent. Maybe you’ve had it professionally critiqued several times and you’re ready to have an agent start sending your work out on your behalf. If so, here are three ways to find a literary agent.


    If you’ve written a manuscript and it’s been vetted by a critique group or several beta readers, then you might be ready to start looking for a literary agent. Maybe you’ve had it professionally critiqued several times and you’re ready to have an agent start sending your work out on your behalf. If so, here are three ways to find a literary agent.


    Writing Conferences



    I made a connection with an agent at a writing conference that resulted in landing my first agent. That’s one reason why agents attend writing conferences! They want to find fresh new voices with unique ideas. They’re hoping to find a new writer to add to their list.

    When you go to a writing conference, workshop, or retreat, take note of any agents that may be attending. They typically attend larger conferences as opposed to more personal workshops and retreats.

    • Attend their sessions. 
    • Take good notes. 
    • Strike up a conversation.

    If the event gives instructions on how to submit to the agents and editors, follow the instructions to the letter!

    Here are a few things to NOT do at a conference. Don’t pitch them with your book ideas during the conference (unless that’s a special event happening similar to speed dating). Don’t stalk them and try to slip your manuscript under the bathroom stalls. And definitely don't tell them that you've written the next Harry Potter. If you’re lucky enough to eat lunch at the same table with an agent, don’t talk about your book the whole time. If they ask, give them your elevator pitch in 30 seconds or less (about 1-2 short sentences) what your book is about. Then move on to another topic.


    What is MS Wishlist?



    MS Wishlist is a website, also known as “Manuscript Wishlist”, that curates wish lists from agents and editors who use the #mswl hashtag on Twitter.

    The beauty of this is you can find out what they want and what they’re interested in. This is how I found my second agent. Scout out the website and filter by categories. You’ll likely find a few posts that pique your interest.

    Come up with a short “pitch” to reply to their tweet. Ask if they are interested in seeing a formal query letter. If so, they will likely respond and give you a website with detailed instructions for how to submit to them. Good luck!


    Acknowledgements in Novels



    No, I haven’t gotten a third agent. But I hear this advice all the time. When you’re researching (i.e. reading) books similar to yours, or at least in the same genre, pay attention to the acknowledgments section in the book, especially if it’s a novel.

    If it’s a book you like, or a publisher you like, then that agent may be a good fit for you as well. When you reach out to the agent via a submission, mention other books they have represented. They love it when you do your homework.

    If it’s a publisher you know you love, then this agent will have a great connection there. This is a great way to research books to find what publishers you like and what agents might be a great fit for you. Keep track of all your findings in a spreadsheet so that you can remember book titles, publishers, and agents that authors mention in their acknowledgements.

    And once you get an agent, be sure to KEEP WRITING!

    Do you have an agent? If so, how did you find him or her? If not, what other advice have you heard? Share your comment here.


    Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot






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    Monday, June 29, 2020

    How to Make Yourself Do Something When You Don’t Want To


    You know you sometimes say, “I want to go for a run, but today I don’t really feel like it”? Or maybe, “I want to write a book, but I don’t feel like writing right now”?

    Well, today, I’m going to give you a tip to help with “not feeling like it.”

    Back in the day, when I was training for my first marathon with Team in Training, we always ran our long runs together on a Saturday morning. And they were always on the trails. With lots of shade.

    I have fond memories of being the last one back to the cars for our final check-in, long after all the fast runners stretched, rehydrated, and got back in the cars to drive home. Coach Scott was always there for me, waiting until every last runner was safely back to our starting point.

    Even when I didn’t feel like continuing, I looked forward to water and a granola bar. I looked forward to stretching and chatting with the final few. At the end of every run, I felt accomplished and strong. Ready to hit the trails again the next Saturday, even though I knew it would be hard and I knew I would be last.



    Feeling Motivated is Great, But…


    Sometimes we have these big goals, but we don’t feel motivated to work toward them. It’s great to feel motivated, but that’s not always the case. So what do you do about it?

    Today, in 2020, I’m not training for a marathon. I merely aim to get 10 miles a week. Sometimes I’m excited, and sometimes I don’t feel as motivated. So what do I do about that? I find something to look forward to, just like I did when I was training for my first marathon.

    There’s this little trail near my house, if you even want to call it a trail. It’s actually a little portion of ground with gravel about a foot away from the main road. It might be 100 feet, if you’re lucky. It goes past two mailboxes. It’s uphill and there’s lots of trees overhanging the curve to give shade. It makes me feel like I’m running the trails again. It’s a nostalgic, euphoric feeling. I smile when my feet step onto the gravel of uneven terrain and I enter the shade zone, even if only for a couple of minutes.

    So find something to look forward to and you’ll be more motivated to get out there and pound the pavement (or the trails).

    How to Write When You Don’t Want To


    You know you’re never going to get your novel published if you don’t finish writing it, right? I think it’s awesome to have big goals. I’m a dreamer, so I’m always dreaming big. But you can’t keep your head in the clouds; you have to take action too.

    How do you look forward to your writing?

    Tip #1: Schedule it on your calendar. Even if it’s only one hour a week. You’ll know when it’s happening and you’ll start to look forward to it.

    Tip #2: Think about what you’re going to write about. Think about your characters and the next scene. It will get you excited to write the next sentence, even if you feel stuck.

    Find Something to Look Forward To


    Motivation ebbs and flows. We aren’t always excited about doing the things we say we want to do. That’s okay.

    Sometimes, looking to the end of the activity might work for you.

    • “I can’t wait to get back to the car and sit down, stretch, get some water and a snack.” 
    • “I guess I’ll go for a run today because I know I’ll feel better once it’s done.” 
    • “When I’m finished with my writing today, I get to finish reading Harry Potter.” 
    • “I guess I’ll write today - so I can reach my word count goals.” 

    But sometimes beginning with the end in mind isn’t enough. Not in real life anyway.

    Sometimes we need to find a way to enjoy the act itself. Why run if you hate every step of it? Why write if you can’t stand it? Do what you love and the joy will follow. But what if you’re having a hard time re-connecting to your initial joy?



    Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot





    Find SOMETHING to look forward to DURING the act.

    For running, I look forward to that mini trail. I also look forward to fresh air and sunshine. I also look forward to nature and wildlife. I see buttercups, dandelions, and morning glories. I often find four-leaf clovers. I have seen turtles, snakes, lizards, butterflies, ladybugs, dogs, falcons, owls, bluebirds, frogs, among other critters.

    With my writing, I remember what it feels like to write a story. I think about my characters and the next scene, as mentioned above. When I write, I get giddy and shout, “I LOVE writing! THIS is why I love to write!” So I remember THAT feeling and then I look forward to my scheduled writing time more and more.

    I hope you can do the same. Choose a special pen or pencil or a fancy journal. Look forward to THAT. Choose a special PLACE to write. Make it your writing haven. Whatever you do, make sure you actually write - and that you enjoy it.

    Until next time, keep on keepin’ on…

    How do you psych yourself up to start writing or to go for a run? Let me know in the comments! Share your comment here.

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    Monday, June 22, 2020

    The One Thing All Published Writers Have in Common


    What do writers and runners have in common? Quite a lot, actually. But what’s the one thing all published writers (and experienced runners) have in common? HINT: It’s not “being published”.

    Once upon a time, they were new to writing (or running)...

    What do writers and runners have in common? Quite a lot, actually. But what’s the one thing all published writers and experienced runners have in common? And it’s not “being published” either. Once upon a time, they were new to writing (or running).


    How I Started Running


    Aside from running on the playground in elementary school or being forced to run laps in the gym during high school P.E., I didn’t run. My exercise consisted of walking, bicycling, jumping rope and trampolines!

    In college, I took a fitness class every single semester after the required health class: aerobics, weight training, ballroom dancing, yoga, jogging, snow skiing, and swimming.

    The only one I dropped out of was yoga. And that’s only because I was pregnant with my first child. Being 6 months pregnant sure makes it hard to do the cat pose and child’s pose. So I got an incomplete.

    Jogging was a fun class. The teacher was also my weight training and aerobics teacher for those classes. He had lost over 100 pounds when he was in college and was super inspirational. He started running and didn’t even have the right shoes. So he wanted to help others so they wouldn’t make all the same mistakes he did.

    I started out slow. Jogged some and walked some. I learned that walking at a fast pace actually gave me shin splints, so I picked up the pace even more and started running. My shin splints disappeared!

    Now, I have run 2 marathons, 2 half marathons, about 5 or 6 10Ks, and over a dozen 5Ks, along with an 8-mile trail race and a 5-mile all-uphill mountain race. Funny thing is I jumped from my first race ever (a 5k where walkers were going faster than I was running) to a full 26.2 mile marathon in about a year and a half with no other races in between.

    I blame my older brother’s death and Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I signed up (and got free training) so that I could go to Alaska and run in my brother’s honor since he had worked in Alaska on a fishing boat one summer.

    And that’s how I began running. One step at a time. But it was the first marathon that got me hooked on racing.

    How I Started Writing


    So what about writing? Well, let’s just say that the writing gene was in my blood when I was born. I think I was born with a pencil in my hand. I wrote all kinds of things all through school.

    • In 2nd grade, I wrote poetry. Short, silly poems, but I wrote them! 
    • In 4th grade, I wrote lots of short stories. 
    • In the 6th grade, I wrote short stories, poems, and even a play that I had the whole class perform during library time. 
    • In middle school, I wrote poetry. 
    • In high school, I wrote poetry and short stories. 
    • In college, I majored in creative writing and wrote poetry, plays, and a novel. 

    But after I graduated, I had kids, got a full-time job, and stopped writing. A couple years later, I went back to college to get a degree in elementary education, where I fell in love with writing for children.

    In 2009, I started writing for children and began to really take my writing seriously. I started a blog and took all kinds of courses. I haven’t looked back since.



    Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot





    Beginning Writer or Runner


    Being a beginning writer or runner has its advantages. Yes, you’re new. You might not know the ropes. You probably begin races too quickly and start submitting manuscripts before they’ve been properly edited.

    But you have grit, tenacity, a passion for learning. You want to grow and improve and learn the art of writing or the art of running.

    Enthusiasm for your new passions is what helps you keep going until you hit your first milestone, and then your next, and your next, and your next. Pretty soon, you’ve learned all kinds of things and you’re no longer a beginner.

    Welcome to the club!

    When did you start running and writing? Let me know in the comments! Share your comment here.

    Keep on keepin' on...

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    Monday, June 15, 2020

    Plot Arc Summary of Mulan and Mulan II



    Mulan doesn’t fit the traditional princess role, or at least it didn’t back in 1998, but it has become a Disney classic. Fans of the first Mulan movie welcomed the sequel, Mulan II. According to the Marathon Method of Plotting, the five main plot points of this story are found below. 

     

    Mulan doesn’t fit the traditional princess role, or at least it didn’t back in 1998, but it has become a Disney classic. Fans of the first Mulan movie welcomed the sequel, Mulan II. According to the Marathon Method of Plotting, the five main plot points of this story are found below.


    Mulan


    Summary of Mulan, according to Google, Wikipedia, and IMDB:

    “Fearful that her ailing father will be drafted into the Chinese military, Mulan takes his spot -- though, as a girl living under a patriarchal regime, she is technically unqualified to serve. She cleverly impersonates a man and goes off to train with fellow recruits. Accompanied by her dragon, Mushu, she uses her smarts to help ward off a Hun invasion, falling in love with a dashing captain along the way.”


    • The Signup - The war was announced and Mulan’s father was called to go fight.
    • The Gunshot - Mulan cut her hair and ran away to join the war efforts so her father wouldn’t have to go fight.
    • The Halfway Point - Mulan finally figures out how to get the arrow from the top of the wooden post, which signifies her willingness to succeed.
    • The Wall - After Mulan and the army defeat the Hun army in the avalanche, she is kicked out of the army because they discovered she is a girl. They abandon her and move toward the city.
    • The Finish Line - They defeat the Hun leader, Shan Yu, in the fireworks tower and the Emperor is saved.




    Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot







    Mulan II


    Summary of Mulan II:

    “Mulan and her new fiancé, General Li Shang travel on a special mission to escort the Emperor's three daughters across the country to meet their soon-to-be fiancés for arranged marriages so that the two kingdoms can form an alliance.” 


    • The Signup - When the Emperor calls for Mulan and Shang.
    • The Gunshot - When Mulan and Shang choose three guards for the three princesses and they set off on their journey. (The stakes: if they don’t complete the task in three days, the Mongols will destroy China.)
    • The Halfway Point - After the carriage is accidentally destroyed, the three guards take the princesses to the nearby village to declare their love for them.
    • The Wall - Mulan loses Shang to the river below and she decides to take the place of the princesses so they won’t have to be forced into a loveless marriage.
    • The Finish Line - Mulan and Shang get married (he didn’t die, afterall) because Mushu steps in to be the Great Golden Dragon of Unity, which ultimately releases the princesses from their vows.

    Want more plot outlines? Visit the Plot Arc Library!

    Which movie was your favorite? Mulan the first? Or Mulan the second? Share your comment here.

    Keep on keepin' on...

    Monday, June 8, 2020

    8 Types of Endings for Your Novel: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


    If you’ve ever struggled with getting the ending to your story right, then you know how difficult it can be. Writing isn’t always a walk in the park; sometimes it feels like you’re running 26.2 miles of an up-hill marathon!

    There are many ways to end a book and none of them are universally good nor evil, but readers have grown to love and expect certain types of endings more than others. This guide to novel endings will show you which ones are the best and which ones are more challenging. Not only challenging for the reader to accept, but also challenging for the writer to pull off.
    1. Happily Ever After Ending
    2. Twist Ending
    3. Circular Ending
    4. Interpretive Ending
    5. Epilogue
    6. Cliffhanger “Ending”
    7. Abrupt Ending
    8. Combination



    THE GOOD


    The four best ways to end your story are one of these four types of story endings.

    1. Happily Ever After


    Definition: The number one way readers love to see a story end is the Happily Ever After, also known as HEA. This ending resolves all the major conflict and wraps up all the subplots into a nice, neat bow. The ending ties up all the loose ends and answers any lingering questions.

    Best For: This ending is most often used in standalone novels for any age (MG, YA, and Adult), romance, and the final book in a series.

    Examples: The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, We Met in December by Rosie Curtis, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

    2. The Twist


    Definition: The twist ending is a reader favorite because people love surprises. Just make sure it doesn’t come out of nowhere. The ending still has to be satisfying and it has to make sense. It’s not a fool-proof excuse to kill off a character just because you don’t want your ending to be predictable.

    Best For: This type of novel ending is often used in suspense thrillers and mysteries. But that’s not the only genre it can be used in. Picture books often use twist endings too, usually summed up in a single sentence implying a future escapade of some sort.

    Examples: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

    3. Circular


    Definition: The circular type of ending is when the end of a story ties back to the beginning. It’s usually when the character ends up back where they started. Perhaps the MC had an opportunity to take a new route into their future, but they decide - after the course of events in the story - to return to their old ways… with a newfound insight on a better life, despite returning to their roots.

    Best For: This ending is most often used in character-driven novels or literary novels.

    Examples: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

    4. Interpretive


    Definition: An interpretive ending is ambiguous. It leaves readers wondering what really happened. Yes, the ending may be clear, but a portion of it could be interpreted in different ways, kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure type of ending. Ultimately, this type of ending leaves the reader with thoughtful questions.

    Best For: This ending is most often used in literary novels or when the author wants the reader to reflect on the meaning of the book and to let the themes simmer in the reader’s mind for a while.

    Examples: Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, The Giver by Lois Lowry.



    THE BAD


    Novels with an epilogue or a cliffhanger for an ending are considered bad protocol by most. That’s not to say you can’t do it. You can do whatever you want. But knowing when to use them can be helpful.

    5. Epilogue


    Definition: This type of ending can be described as an extended or expanded ending. The book ends like normal, but then there’s an epilogue to tell more about what happens down the road. The best example I can come up with here is movies. Especially ones based on a true story. At the end of the movie, it’ll say something like, “Brad went on to create a successful business and he had 3 children.” In a novel, it’s usually no more than 3 printed pages.

    Best For: This ending is most often used when the author has more to say about the characters, but there won’t be a series. It’s great for standalone novels, but most editors consider epilogues unnecessary. Don’t write one just because you feel like it. Make sure the story needs it.

    Examples: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

    6. Cliffhanger


    Definition: The cliffhanger is an ending that leaves the reader begging for more. Things are left unresolved. It’s a very controversial type of ending. Most readers hate it. Editors too. Make sure there’s a good reason for ending this way. It leaves the reader with a bad taste in their mouth and often won’t return to that author’s books anymore. It’s a whole lot less pleasant than the interpretive ending.

    Best For: This ending is most often used in series. At least that’s where the cliffhanger can work FOR the writer (and the reader). Just make sure the final book in the series is a Happily Ever After ending.

    Examples: Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, Spirit Animals by various authors, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

    THE UGLY


    These two types of novel endings aren’t necessarily the worst, but they aren’t the best either.

    7. Abrupt


    Definition: A novel with an abrupt ending isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but it leaves the ribbon untied. No pretty bow to look at. It feels unfinished. It feels like the joy is snatched out from under you.

    Best For: This ending is most often used in literary novels and/or by seasoned authors.

    Examples: The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis.

    8. Combination


    Definition: The combination ending can include multiple endings mentioned above. For example, sometimes a cliffhanger and a twist ending might be combined. Or a circular ending combined with a twist ending.

    Best For: This ending is most often used by seasoned veteran authors.

    Examples: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (circular and twist ending).


    What’s your favorite type of ending to read? To write? Share your comment here.



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    Monday, June 1, 2020

    What Does Water Have to Do with Reading?


    There are two camps when it comes to writers reading. One camp says that reading doesn’t make you a better writer. The other camp says the opposite: that reading is essential to becoming a better writer. I belong to the latter camp. So why should writers continue to read books?


    Books are Like Water Stops


    First off, a story about running. The other day, I went for a run and was thinking about how the water stops in a race serve as a refreshment stop. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hard core runner and you grab and go, just barely swallowing 4 oz. of water as half of it sloshes to the ground.

    Or if you’re like me and suffer from a “condition” where you can’t be moving while drinking. Like seriously, I have to stop running. Stop walking. And then I can finally drink my 4 oz. of revitalizing H2O.

    The going advice for the average runner is to take in 4 to 6 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of exercise. And at the end of your run? Drink as much as you need to feel hydrated and satisfied. So what about books?

    Reading is Like Drinking Water


    For the average reader, reading is an escape. For entertainment. Or for learning new information. But for the serious writer? Reading books is essential. Just like water. You have to read books in order to rehydrate your brain.

    Reading books is like drinking water. Writing can sometimes be a lonely, draining job. Yes, it’s creative. And yes, creativity breeds more creativity. But what about those times when you hit a wall? A brick writer’s block wall. What happens when you don’t feel creative anymore?

    Reading can be the answer to inspire you into action! It’s important to keep your own fire alive so the spark doesn’t die out. And the more you read, the better the writer you’ll become.

    How Reading Helps You Become a Better Writer


    So how does reading more books help you become a better writer? Because you’re absorbing examples of good writing. Just like people start to act like those they hang around, you’ll begin to pick up on the nuances of writing simply from reading lots of books.

    Yes, you still have to write. Reading alone doesn’t make you a better writer. Writing and reading go hand in hand like runners and Gu.

    It’s especially important to not only read more books, but to read books in your own genre. And to study them. But, isn’t reading alone a form of studying? Kind of. But to take it further, here’s one way you can study the books you read.

    On a piece of notebook paper (use it for your bookmark), write a summary of each chapter as soon as you finish that chapter. When you finish the book, you can look at the book as a whole and look for structural patterns.

    So, read more and drink some H2O.

    Do you believe reading helps you become a better writer? What’s your favorite way to study books as you read them? Leave a comment and let me know! Share your comment here.



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    Monday, May 25, 2020

    How to Write a Query Letter for Your Novel or Picture Book Manuscript


    Since you're a writer, you want to get published, right? This step-by-step guide will help you know what to include in a query letter and where to put it.

    This query letter template will help you craft the perfect letter to send to editors and agents. It’s purpose is to get them interested in your book and hopefully request either the first 10 pages, first 3 chapters, or the full manuscript. The query letter is 3-5 paragraphs, all on one page. Word count doesn’t matter, but the shorter the better. Don’t try to be cutesy and clever. Stick to the template and be professional, but be yourself too. Let your voice come through in your words. Modify the query to fit the person.



    Paragraph 1


    Tell the person why you are writing to them specifically, such as where or when you met the person or if you share a common interest. If it doesn’t apply or you can’t find a way to personalize your query letter, then you can omit this paragraph.

    Paragraphs 2 and 3


    In these 1-2 paragraphs, you talk about the book. This is where you will insert your pitch. You can add a little more about the characters, the theme, and a couple of comp titles. Make sure your voice shines through.

    Paragraph 4


    This is a very short paragraph about the genre, completed length of your manuscript (by word count, not pages), the setting and time period of the book. Remember, your manuscript must be finished. One to two sentences is all you need.

    Paragraph 5


    The last paragraph is where you can tell a little bit about yourself, if you have a platform, your history, why you are the person to write this book, etc., but remember to keep it short and relevant. Don’t say that your friends, family, neighbors, and students loved your story. You likely won’t hear back because that is considered unprofessional.

    What have you heard about query letters to NOT do? Share in the comments and let me know! Share your comment here.


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    Monday, May 18, 2020

    5 Tips for Choosing Your Book Title


    Your book’s title is the most important thing you can do to help it succeed. If you’ve written a novel and you need help with your title, ask yourself these questions, along with a few tips to consider when thinking about a title for your book.

    The idea here is to come up with something that you will love, so make sure when you do your brainstorming and elimination, that you choose something you won’t get burned out on when creating a great title for your book.
    1. Keep it short.
    2. Think about spelling and pronunciation.
    3. Consider your book’s genre or category.
    4. Use one-word titles carefully.
    5. Look for duplicates.



    Keep It Short


    Short titles are easier to say, type, and remember. They fit nicely in tweets, URLs, and short bio descriptions. Try to stick to 7 words or less. When people remember your title, it’s easier for them to share it and word of mouth can grow faster than books with really long hard-to-remember titles. 

      

    Spelling and Pronunciation


    If your title is too hard for most people to say, they may buy a different title, instead. People don’t typically like to say words they have a hard time pronouncing, which could affect sales and word-of-mouth book recommendations. Do you really want to spend time correcting people on how to pronounce your title? This goes for characters too! Spelling counts!


    Consider Your Book’s Genre


    Your book title should give readers a clue to its genre. You don’t want your sci-fi to sound like a romance or horror title. 

     

    One-Word Titles


    One-word titles can sometimes be catchy (Divergent, Cinder, Speak, Island, 1984, Seraphina, Neverwhere, Twilight, etc.), but you could also run the risk of getting lost in search results. You might not want to have a novel about horses with the title Cupcakes if your book has nothing to do with cupcakes. Just sayin’. Make it relevant and unique.


    Look for Duplicates


    Titles aren’t copyrightable, so it’s not the end of the world if there’s another book out there with the same title. If it’s a bestseller though, I’d recommend changing yours to something different.


    Questions to Ask Yourself When Thinking About a Title for Your Book


    After answering these questions, and thinking about the tips above, brainstorm a list of potential titles for your book. Let yourself go wild and crazy. Don’t hold back.
    1. What is your current “working” title, even if you think it’s horrible? 
    2. What is the genre of your book?
    3. What is the readership age of your book?
    4. What are your characters’ names?
    5. What is your book about? 
    6. What are some themes you’re exploring?
    7. Use Amazon Bestseller Lists to search for comparative titles in your genre.
    Once you have a list of titles for your novel, start the elimination process and cross off the ones you really don’t like. Come up with your top 5-10 titles and ask your family, friends, and fellow writers which ones they like the best.

    When you're ready to start querying, be sure to format your query letter properly.

    What are some of your favorite book titles, whether you’ve read the book or not? Share in the comments below and let me know!



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    Monday, May 11, 2020

    10 Ways to Know You're a WRITER


    If any of these top 10 writer statements make you laugh, then you know you're a writer.


    1. You know you're a writer when you have a drawer full of manuscripts and rejection letters.


    2. You know you're a writer when you see a sign on the highway and you notice spelling and grammar errors.


    3. You know you're a writer when you're a chapter away from finishing your first novel and you scream, "I'm never doing this again!" But a week later, you're planning your next book.


    4. You know you're a writer when you get mad if someone calls you an "aspiring writer."


    5. You know you're a writer when you're starving after five hours of writing, but you're too into the story to stop for a break.


    6. You know you're a writer when you plan your vacations around a writing conference or a retreat.


    7. You know you're a writer (who runs) when you hit a wall in your plot and the only way you know how to solve it is to go for a run.


    8. You know you're a writer when your books, notebooks, and laptop take up half of your suitcase on trips.


    9. You know you're a writer when you have more patience re-writing the same paragraph for an hour than you do waiting in line at the bank for 5 minutes.


    10. You know you're a writer when you dread your days off.


    Which one of these speaks to you the most? Which one is your favorite? Share in the comments below!

    If you enjoyed this post, you might like the "You Know You're a RUNNER When..." series too!

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