Tag Archives: plight

Nov 10

Mary Deal Shows How to Move from Novella to Novel

Novella to Novel
by
Mary Deal

How I produced my first full length book.

Writing a novella follows the same general guidelines as for writing the long short story or novel.

For quite a while, I wrote and published short stories, poetry, and other brief prose. Many of the pieces received critiques in a number of Internet workshops. I kicked around a lot of ideas for writing longer stories, maybe a novel.

My thoughts were that since I practiced multi-genre writing, surely I could produce a novel. After all, I maintained a long, long list of tips for writing a story.

When some of us in an online workshop decided to experiment with Interior Monologue, the idea of a person caught alone in a rip current gave me an Aha! experience. It was, after all, fresh in my mind because I had just survived being caught in a rip current at Ke`e Beach on the North Shore of Kauai.

I was alone in the water with my thoughts while the current threatened to pull me toward the North Equatorial Current!

I would write my own interior monologue, my self-speak, and fictionalize it to suit the heroine’s predicament when she thought she could be a goner. What a spectacular story that would make! Thus, Caught in a Rip was born.

Again, I entertained the idea that writing a book couldn’t be much different than writing a long short story. Who was I kidding?

After I posted the novella of my experience, translated to my character’s plight, for review and critique in the online writing workshop, the story and my writing received a rating of 10 from each and every reader.

Still, I was faced with the fact that big publishing houses were not accepting novellas for publication. Nor is a single novella the same as writing a book.

At that moment, having written only a novella, writing a book seemed a daunting task.

Getting this novella completed was fun.

Then I hit on the idea of writing another of my short stories into a second novella. For the moment, writing a book slipped from my mind.

I had been on a ketch in the Caribbean that almost sank in a sea storm. Banishing the thought that my long stories wouldn’t be published, Child of a Storm was written next.

Then, returning to the idea of writing a novel, I was in a quandary as to how these stories helped with writing a book. These two novellas still weren’t long enough when combined to call them a novel.

Simply, I had two novellas, as different in content as any multi-genre writing.

Publishers didn’t want to see either, separately or together, and two weren’t long enough to break apart into a trilogy. Not that publishers accepted trilogies at the time either.

In pondering the idea of writing a book, I needed to pull these stories together. Their similarities were that both dealt with living in the tropics, one story in the Caribbean, one in Hawaii.

Both were written from my own life-threatening episodes at sea.

The stories being related gave me another Aha! experience.

I conjured the idea of interrelating the two separate main characters, giving each of them their own story but having the women as good friends. The only thing left to do was bring them together in writing a third story, completing the trilogy.

This was bending the rules of the standard format for writing a book, but, well… perhaps not.

I wrote the third story, Hurricane Secret, loosely at first. I knew that I had to have threads from each story intertwined in the others. That is the beauty of writing fiction.

I then went back through each story and wrote in some threads that I left dangling. In writing jargon, that means I did not totally wrap up the action at the ends of each novella, even though each story can stand alone. Instead, I left questions unanswered. After all, readers would know more intrigue was to come because there was much more of the book to read.

Another important element was that I began the time period of Child of a Storm much earlier and had the two women meet in the first story. Then the timeline in each story progressed forward, as did the ages of the characters.

Caught in a Rip takes place in a much later time period, perhaps two decades later.

In the third story, Hurricane Secret, all the threads have been woven toward the climax and denouement. And yet, each story stands alone and could be published alone, but I finally had a book-length work.

For over a year, I submitted the complete package to agents, seeking representation. I received only rejections. If the agents commented at all, most stated that this was not the kind of project their agency represented, in spite of saying my query letter and other documents were well-written and the stories sounded exciting. Without being told, I felt they were rejecting novellas in particular.

During the search for an agent that lasted about a year and a half, I began to research my Egyptian novel, The Ka. My first completed novel was finished. I now felt I could write one story into a full book.

After a string of rejections longer than my arm, I decided to publish The Tropics using print-on-demand.

Though I was extremely pleased with the outcome of The Tropics, when I thought about writing The Ka, an entire novel composed of one story, I knew then that I would really be writing a book.

Still, it doesn’t matter which format you choose when writing a book. All of it amounts to experience. In order to learn, you must get the words out, no matter what you may write.

The most widely known procedure in writing a book is to produce one continuous story, beginning, middle and ending. But, as in everything, there are deviations.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Aug 04

Mary Deal Provides “8 Tips for Beginning Writers”

Tip #1 – Store Your Notes

Usually when I see great writing tips, I have a file set up in Word called – what else? – “Writing Tips.” I copy and paste the advice into my file to refer to when needed. Any handwritten notes I’ve made as reminders also get posted there.

Tip #2 – Be Prepared to Write

Keep writing materials handy no matter where you go. That one item you forgot to write down, and then forgot completely, could have been the one fragment that made your story memorable.

A true writer makes notes everywhere they go. If we’re without a laptop, as I am, we carry note pads and pens. JK Rowling used paper table napkins because she used to sit in her favorite cafe lamenting on her jobless plight – till a shift happened in her mind and she started penning the notes for her first novel.

Tip #3 – Beginnings

Avoid using empty words to start a story. Some empty words are:

There – refers to a place
They – refers to people
That – refers to a thing
It – refers to almost anything

Without first knowing the content your story, we have no idea to what each refers. For example, one person may write:

There were four of them. Without yet knowing the story, ask yourself: Where were they? Who were they? A better way to bring the action forward would be to say, Four of them appeared. Or get directly into the meat of your story and say, Four men dressed in black mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. You can write much more succinctly if you will use descriptive words, and not empty ones to start a story or sentence.

Exceptions are:

The Charles Dickens line: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I see no way to improve on that – or emulate it.

Also: It was a dark and stormy night, coined by the Victorian writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Surely, you wouldn’t write: A dark and stormy night had overtaken us. Or would you?

Tip #4 – The First Word of a Story

The first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph under the story title must grab attention. The first sentence must sustain the attention, and on through the first paragraph. If the first word or sentence is boring, or says nothing in particular, the readers’ expectations of a good story are killed.

What if you wrote: It was a quiet town with quiet people. Does that give you any idea at all as to what the story might be about?

You can use the word “the” to begin anywhere, but what follows “the” then becomes the attention grabber.

Here’s an example of starting with “the” from my adventure novel, The Tropics: The jagged scar on Pablo’s belly wriggled like a snake when he ran.

Here’s the attention grabber from my Egyptian fantasy, The Ka: “Witch!” Randy Osborne said as he strode around the room wearing a contemptible smirk.

And from my thriller, River Bones: Blood-red letters filled the top of the monitor screen: Serial Killer Victim Identified.

Then from my latest thriller, Down to the Needle: “The perp torched himself…”

Start your stories with words and action that pull the reader in.

Tip #5 – Use of the Passive Voice

Passive voice should be used with serious consideration as to how it affects your story.

A bad example: The house was cleaned by someone else. Here, the object of the action is the subject of the sentence.

A good example: Someone else cleaned the house. “Someone else” did the action. They should be the subject of the sentence. Ask yourself who or what is doing that action. They are the subject of the sentence, not the action.

Passive voice can best be used, and sparingly, when writing in first person. Example: I was hit by the car.

Tip #6 – A Rejection for a Comma

My publishing house editor returned my manuscript again after I made most of the changes suggested in the first edit. The editor referred me to the Chicago Manual of Style and told me to get it right.

What’s wrong with this sentence? He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted and tried again.

The Chicago Manual of style says (Page 173 of the 14th Edition):

5.57 – In a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction.

Therefore the corrected sentence is: He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted, and tried again.

Did you spot the correction? Can you sense the difference as you read it?

In order to avoid rejections, the grammar in your story must conform to the rules if you know a certain publisher adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style.

Tip #7 – Avoid Splitting Infinitives

Be conscious of any form of “to be.” A great example of a split infinitive is “To boldly go where no man…” Everyone knows that line. It just doesn’t sound right to use: “To go boldly where no man…”
Look at these two:

“To be, or not to be.”

“To be, or to not be.”

Though split infinitives are a matter of style, incorrect usage at the wrong time can ruin a good story.

Tip #8 – Edit and Revise

We MUST edit and revise as many times as necessary to get it right. Otherwise, what could we expect but another rejection? Knowing if a story is right comes with experience of editing our own work as if it were someone else’s.

Once writers think their stories are finished and polished, even though they may have had a great edit, they refuse to go through another rewrite. Then, I ask, what’s the sense of having the piece edited? I edited my entire “Ka” novel manuscript – 885 manuscript pages (410 book pages) – a MINIMUM of 30 times over four years and stopped counting after that. Point is, the story had to be right before anyone other than my personal editors saw it. All of that happened before the publisher’s editor saw it. Then there were two more edits following that person’s sage advice.

Most of us writers are not English majors or PhD’s. No matter how good we believe our writing to be, editing is the only means to perfecting our craft.
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Apr 07

“Dig Deep” No…not an Article about the IRS, but another Mary Deal Writing Post

Understanding a form of writer’s block.

My experience has been that when I write, I must allow the plot and characters to go where they may. We are all told that a story will write itself. I heartily agree, but this only happens when we go deep into our creativity and let things unfold naturally. As writers, we are products of our experiences and that’s the fertile ground from which we create.

The norm for me is that I don’t know where the story will go, which action or direction to take or how the characters will play out their parts. I don’t know this even if I begin a story knowing how it will end.

Our muses will do a lot for us if we allow. Writing is like rearing a child. We discipline and nudge in the right direction, but should never be so controlling that we stifle the natural development of the child and as the child grows, it takes on a life of its own. So it is with writing. All aspects of our stories can write themselves.

One way this will happen is when we allow our characters to play out their parts. When we’ve gotten our protagonist or other character into a situation and don’t know how to get them out, we should not quickly back out of the scene and take another course.

What writing teaches is that the writer should put her or himself into the action of the character. Play like you’re faced with this dilemma and ask yourself what you would do in such a case. This takes you deeper into yourself and your own creativity where you can root out the answers. Allow yourself to face these situations as if you were the character backed into the much-clichéd corner.

If you have your villain in a tight spot and can’t see yourself ever getting into such a place, or being that villain, then you should play-act the gestalt of the situation. Look into a mirror and be the villain who is talking to you. Based on how you’ve created this character, and the action of the plot, you have only so many choices to make and that’s all.

When I wrote many of the scenes in my novel, “The Tropics,” at times I found I didn’t know where to take a character. One example in the first story, “Child of a Storm,” is that when Ciara is trying to keep Rico awake and treat his concussion and near drowning, I didn’t know what to have her do. I couldn’t apply knowledge that I know today to a situation that took place thirty years ago, and that was my key.

In the late 1960s, my limited knowledge is that one had to keep a person with a concussion mostly awake, maybe moving around but not jarring their head. As far as the near drowning, if you got some water out of their lungs and the person is able to walk, they were assumed to be okay. So that’s all I could put into my story—partly because that was not only my knowledge back then but also the general knowledge of most people at that time. I couldn’t say much about respiratory therapy as we know it today because back then it was just being studied as a possible treatment.

So the part of me that went into the story was what I knew during the 1960s and nothing more. It ended up being the truth of the plot action. What my protagonist did to help her fiancé’s condition, albeit limited, helped me to further build my protagonist’s character and resolve. She did as much as she possibly could. So I wasn’t stuck in the plot anymore.

In the second story, “Caught in a Rip,” when Lilly is facing death at sea and suddenly spots a turtle snagged in a drift net, I wondered how I would give Lilly stamina enough to do what she wanted to do. She wanted to photograph that turtle knowing her waterproof camera would float to shore after she died and someone would find it and hopefully develop the photos.

What could I do with Lilly? I had already nearly killed her off and her energy was depleted. It would look awfully contrived having her energetically swim down and take those photos and then die. Then I asked myself, if in that situation what would it take for me to rally my resolve and get those photos? That’s when I was forced deep into my own psyche to compare notes with my muse.

Exactly what would I do? The answer was simple. I slowed the speed of the story in order to show Lilly’s resolve. I did it with her inner thoughts, some momentary flashbacks that made her take a look at her strengths and weaknesses, and showed the reader how she convinced herself to do it. Had I been in that situation that’s how I would have reacted.

I could have written in that a tour boat came along and rescued her, and that the captain photographed the turtle, but that was too easy. She had to do it on her own in order to become this much-admired heroine and only I, the writer alone with my Muse, could think it through.

Truth is, if I knew I was going to die and I wanted to leave something behind to show the plight of that turtle, I would muster everything I had left as one last great gesture to amount to something in my life. You can bet that I would be thinking about my strengths and past successes in order to hype myself before diving down to take that photo.

Finding the character’s motivation was my motivation as the writer that helped the character to decide what to do.

Another writer might look inside themselves and feel a bit of writer’s block and say, There’s no way out of this! Then they might back up in the plot and rewrite it to go in a different direction.

Our characters and plot decisions come from deep within us. Something in us has made us bring the story dilemma to light. Facing and solving our characters’ dilemmas allows us to take a deeper look at ourselves and find inner strengths that have never been challenged in our daily lives.

If we, as writers, allow our Muses free reign and we do not soon back out and change the course of the story simply for an easier way out, we will find more exciting resolutions to the dilemmas we create. We may also come in contact with personal strengths we never knew we had.

At times, my Muse says, “This is the only way to go. You figure it out.” So if we don’t wish to rewrite an entire section of the story, we must dig deeper into ourselves to create the plot remedy.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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