Writing

Book Review: Dreyer’s English

I was an unusual kid in school – I loved English grammar. I still remember diagramming sentences to demonstrate my understanding of the different parts of speech. Reading Dreyer’s English brought me back to the days of my high school English classes.

Of course, reading an entire book about straight grammar, style, and punctuation would be dry and boring, even for me. But this book is anything but. Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, gives entertaining and often humorous explanations and comments while writing about proper English usage and style. Dryer writes about words and rules in which people often make mistakes. Some examples include similarly-spelled words like aid and aide, which titles need quotation marks and which require italics, and the frequent mistake of using two words when one is sufficient (For example, the term “free gift” is a redundancy). Dreyer uses famous people, books, TV shows, and songs as examples. Together with his wit, Dreyer’s English a pleasure. While I was reading, I started wishing I became a copy editor myself because he made the rules so fascinating – I would love to work with words on an everyday basis. My only complaint is the footnote symbols are so tiny that I often missed them, so by the time I got to the bottom of the page, I didn’t know which section each footnote was referring to. Overall, it is a handy reference book for everyone.

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Can a Pantser Become a Plotter?

It has been almost a month since my father-in-law passed away. He used to call us all the time and was very outspoken in his opinions. I found in the first few weeks that something in our lives was missing, but now it is sinking in that he is gone and we must return to our everyday lives. What has helped is discussing our memories of him.

I admit I have had trouble concentrating on writing lately with all my reflections. But Thursday is the day to put up my post and so I am putting forth a great deal of effort into getting my blog written.

When it comes to writing novels, I am a pantser—that is, I write from the seat of my pants. I don’t plot scenes, develop characters, or map out the hero’s journey before I begin writing. This method worked for my first novel, True Mercy, but I’ve run into some issues in my second novel.

I began as usual, developing characters and writing the plot as I went along. After editing the story numerous times, I sent it off to my editor. Unlike the first novel which grabbed her interest right away, she had a lot of questions and problems with the story. She wrote comments such as one of my main characters was selfish and she was critical of the dynamics of each family in the novel.  I edited some more and not satisfied with her critique, I decided I needed a second opinion. Mind you, editors are expensive, but I was not satisfied. I also had to face up to the truth that the story needed a great deal more work. In my opinion, which I admit is subjective, I thought this novel has potential and I wanted someone who appreciated the story and help me improve it.  After doing research, I found a second editor. She indicated to me the novel has merits but with a caveat—she said I needed to rewrite the whole story. This editor told me if I was not willing to rewrite, she would understand, there would be no hard feelings, and she would give me a partial refund.

But rightly or wrongly, I couldn’t give up. I rewrote the whole novel. Time will only tell whether all my hours of effort and hard work were worth it.

After all this work, I am exhausted and can’t wait to send it off and get rid of it. I have vowed that if I ever write another novel, I will HAVE TO PLOT IT OUT AND DEVELOP THE CHARACTERS BEFORE I BEGIN THE ACTUAL WRITING PROCESS because I honestly don’t think I could go through rewriting the whole story again.

However, upon reflection, when I wrote True Mercy, I did in fact rewrite the whole story—it took me four years before I published it. But back then, writing a novel was, well, a novel thing for me to do. The whole experience was new and fresh. I couldn’t wait to publish it and have people read my work. Going into my second novel, I hoped the whole process would become a lot easier, but it wasn’t. That’s why I want to try the plotter approach next time. Plotting the novel is supposed to be very demanding in the beginning as the author develops the characters and charts out the events that take place in the story before the actual writing process begins. Other writers have told me it is better to do the hard work in the beginning so the editing process is easier and less frustrating. What’s more, they tell me the book is written more quickly. I plan on giving it a try.

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Meet Writer/Editor Ben Wolf

I am so excited to write about this year’s Write Stuff Writers Conference that I attended on March 21-23. The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/) organizes it every year and this was my fifth year going. As always, I learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely. Everyone was so warm and welcoming that I felt I was reuniting with life-long friends.

Author/Editor Ben Wolf was this year’s keynote speaker. He has written and edited over 100 published works. Ben is the founder of Splickety Publishing Group, a magazine that publishes flash fiction. He has written novels and a children’s book. In 2015 he won the Cascade Award (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/2015-cascade-contest-winners/) for his novel, Blood for Blood, and his children’s book, I’d Punch a Lion in His Eye for You, was a Cascade Award winner in 2016 (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/cascade-award-winners-2016/). His concentration is primarily in speculative fiction.

Ben is 33 years old. When I arrived at the conference to find him as the keynote speaker, my first thought was, “How could someone so young teach the attendees, most older than he is, about writing?”

But it turned out he could. He actually taught us quite a lot.

The following are a few pieces of advice from his talk on “The Three Pillars of Storytelling: Your Novel’s High Concept.” He referenced his information from the book Fiction Writing for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson.  In some of the bulleted points, I will be quoting directly from a few of Ben Wolf’s PowerPoint slides.

  • The Goal of Every Story is to deliver a powerful emotional experience.
  • Every story must do at least one of the following: educate, entertain, or persuade.
  1. ) Entertain-writers are required to do research to make sure they are meeting their readers’ expectations, particularly in that genre (e.g. In romance: some combination of love, lust, and conflict).
  2. ) Educate-writers must think of what they want their readers to learn along the way.

3.) Persuade-in the case of “issue” fiction, they must decide what topics they want to change or influence readers’ minds about.

  • There are 5 pillars of writing fiction

1.) Construct a believable setting

2.) Create interesting character

3.) Create a strong plot

4.) Develop a meaningful theme

5.) Do all of it with style

In this blog post, I am going to concentrate on the second pillar-interesting characters.  Ben used examples from the movie Star Wars. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Trance (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/plotsummary), a plot author, summed it up as follows: “Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader.”

  • The best way to hook a reader is with a compelling character. How does a writer achieve this? By knowing their character’s backstory.

1.) Who are they?

2.) Where did they come from?

3.) What happened that shaped who they are today?

4.) What does the character want?

5.) What is their motivation?

The writer must know the following about each character in their story

  1. ) Values-Those things a character holds most strongly to be true. Nothing is more important than. . .  Writers must convey values through action and behavior and make sure their character’s values have potential for conflict.

As an example, Darth Vader’s values were that nothing is more important than power and his son, Luke Skywalker.

2.) Ambition-The one abstract thing your character wants the most in life.  Give each character one ambition per story. What does your character want to gain? Some examples are wealth, power, peace, destruction, healing, and success.

Luke Skywalker’s ambition was to be a hero.

Story Goals-The one concrete thing your character wants in the story. The character must believe this will help him/her achieve or get closer to achieving their ambition. The more specific the writer can be about the character’s story goals, the better. It is essential the reader believes the story goal matters, the character has a chance to achieve their goal, and there is a chance the character may fail.

3.) Han Solo’s story goal was to obtain the money he needed to pay off the bounty on his life from Jabba the Hutt, a powerful gangster in the galaxy who had great influence in both the criminal and political underworld.

Finally, as demonstrated from Trance’s plot summary stated earlier, the author must formulate

  • A simple, one-sentence idea that describes the main conflict of the book.

Ben has spoken at over 40 writers’ conferences to date. I highly recommend any writer striving to improve their craft sign up and listen to his advice. He may be a youngster, but he gives many valuable pointers to writers of all genres.

Authors interested in getting help with their stories can reach out to Ben through his website, www.benwolf.com/editing-services. He offers coaching and editing services and has helped many authors bring their works to publication.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues: families coping with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Need help with blog content? Please contact me through my website, www.idellekursman.com.

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Interview with Wattpad Star Benjamin Sobieck

Writer Benjamin Sobieck
Ben’s The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad

At the Greater Lehigh Writers Conference last year, I listened to Benjamin Sobieck introduce and explain Wattpad, a social storytelling platform for readers and writers. Writers post their stories, often a chapter at a time, and readers from all over the world read them, offer comments, and vote on them. Wattpad began in 2006 and in 2007, it became available through mobile devices. Today Wattpad has millions of readers and hundreds of millions of stories.

After the class, I took Ben’s business card and emailed him a few times with questions, but I didn’t feel ready to try it until six months later when I read his book The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad: The Comprehensive Guide to Building and Sustaining a Successful Career. This time I wanted to put my current book project on Wattpad and I emailed Ben about enrolling as a writer. He graciously answered my questions and I was now ready to take the plunge.

Wattpad is a whole new writing world that has the potential to reach people all around the world. Many writers have begun successful careers and readers enjoy a vast selection of stories and the opportunity to offer feedback and become actively involved in story development.

I noted Ben’s enthusiasm and willingness to help from our first meeting. He is a crime and thriller writer and a member of Wattpad Stars. His website is crimefiction.com. Ben agreed to do an interview for my website.

1.) Q. Ben, please tell me about yourself and your writing career.

First off, thank you for hosting this interview. The short version is that I went to school for journalism and creative writing, got a job as a reporter, moved over to magazines and wound up working for a large publisher of print, digital and broadcast content. That continues to pay the bills, but if you’re a writer, you know you won’t stop there. I kept writing on the side, and eventually picked up some fiction and non-fiction projects. 

2.) Q. How did you first come across Wattpad? It seems like a perfect match for you and the stories you write.

Thank you! I’d hit a dead end outside of Wattpad with some stories that I thought had legs. I posted them to Wattpad to see what would happen, and the rest is history. It wasn’t overnight, and there were times I felt like quitting. But I knew I had something good to share, and it worked out in the end.

As far as matching content to Wattpad, I write, in general, thrillers. Horror, YA and romance all do well on the platform, too, but that shouldn’t put off anyone not writing in those genres. Wattpad is an enormous place, with 70 million monthly users. If you can find even a tiny, tiny percentage to give your work a read, you’re on the right track.

3.) Q. Wattpad is geared toward millennials and Generation Z. Do you think there is room for older writers/readers?

Of course! The demos certainly skew to those generations, but you’d be surprised at how open minded and advanced those readers are. Remember, these are voracious readers. They want compelling stories. I never intended to write for the 18-25 demo, but that makes up a big chunk of my followers.

For adult readers, there’s plenty of content, too. It takes a little more digging, but you’ll find what you’re looking for. And, hey, even if you don’t, you didn’t spend a bunch of money to find out!

4.) Q. I am a writer that is older than the targeted audience. I am presently posting a chapter a week of my new novel on Wattpad. The main characters are in their forties. Would you say this novel would be a tough sell on Wattpad?

I wouldn’t mistake a slow burn for a tough sell. All Wattpad stories are a slow burn, because it takes time to build up momentum. Writers who frequent Wattpad will see a pay off in reads, votes and comments. It’s just a matter of sticking with it.

As an example, Zandra, the lead character in my “Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective” series, is in her 40s. She deals with adult issues, and there is zero romance. On the surface, that doesn’t look like a Wattpad story. However, it won a Watty Award in 2016.

5.) Q. It is mentioned quite a few times in your book that there are currently 65 million users and 400 million stories. These statistics suggest it would be exceedingly difficult for a writer to stand out. Yet the writers in your book are very encouraging about joining Wattpad. Why do you think they believe new writers have the potential to do well if they stick with it?

It’s up to 70 million now! That sounds intimidating, yes, but remember that of those millions of stories, most of them are one-offs, just for fun or not written by someone interested in a full-fledged writing career. The dedicated writers there to build an audience, and therefore a career, are smaller in number. I don’t know what that number is, exactly, but the readers will always want new material. They enjoy following writers putting out good work. If you’re doing that, the readers will come. It just takes time.

6.) Q. Have any plagiarism concerns come up? After all, many writers are sharing their works in progress.

Yes, unfortunately. There are websites off of Wattpad that post work, and there are “writers” who imitate or copy Wattpad successes. Issue a DMCA notice or alert Wattpad directly. Piracy is always a risk. Hopefully, the benefits of Wattpad outweigh the risk of plagiarism.

7.) Q.  Most of the chapters are written by women. Is that because there are more women writers and readers than men? Do you see a closing of this gap anytime soon?

Wattpad users are female, and I think that reflects readerships at large and Wattpad’s makeup behind the scenes. Most workers at Wattpad HQ are women. That trickles through to the user experience, too. So, no, I’m not sure that will change, but what they’re doing is working.

8.) Q. Many writers mention Watty Awards, the Wattpad Top 100 Hot List, and Wattpad Star. How do writers achieve these benchmarks?

The Watty Awards are an annual competition that anyone can enter. It’s as simple as tagging a story. The Hot Lists are based on reads and votes, but not entirely on reads and votes. The more active you are on Wattpad, the more likely it is you’ll wind up with a ranked title. Wattpad runs a lot of algorithms, and I doubt they’d ever disclose the specifics.

The Wattpad Stars program is by invitation. It used to be that you could apply for it, but that’s since changed.

9.) Q. Would you mind explaining the role of Wattpad Ambassador?

To put it simply, the Ambassadors are there to ensure users have the best experience possible. That can take on a number of forms, from addressing trolls to getting the word out about contest, and they all do great work. 

10.) Q. Some writers have even captured the attention of television executives, movie studios, and publishers! Do you have any statistics on how often this occurs? 

They do! The exact figures are kept close to the chest at Wattpad Studios, the division that licenses content in that way. Should an opportunity come up, though, Wattpad contacts the writer directly to gauge interest. Writers own all the rights to their work. The only time Wattpad would sell those rights to a third party is after having a conversation with the writer and signing a contract. No surprises.

11.) Q. Author Daryl Jamison wrote the chapter, “Writing for Wattpad campaigns.” She mentions ways writers can make money on Wattpad. Would you mind touching on this briefly?

Wattpad Next, Wattpad Futures, Wattpad Books and the branded campaigns are all ways for writers to make money directly through Wattpad. These are invite-only programs at the moment.

12.) Q. Do you have advice for writers on how to become successful on Wattpad?

Keep posting! Keep writing! Build your audience! That’s the best way to do it.

13.) Q. What about story length? Are most short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?

You’ll find work in a variety of lengths, but complete novels seem to do the best.

14.) Q. Ben, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Give Wattpad a try! I did and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my writing career. If you can build an audience that cares about your work, you can port that into any other avenue in publishing. You can’t buy devoted readers, but you can build them. All you need is a tool. Wattpad gives you an entry ramp for readers to find you. For me, it’s home base.

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