Cover Reveal for Our First Writing Guide

Last July (2015), I asked you guys to vote for your favorite cover for our first writing guide, Journaling to Become a Better Writer. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m thrilled to give you the official unveiling now. You ready for this?

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What’d’ya think? Feel free to tell us in the comments!

P.S. – Did you know that as a subscriber to the Indie Plot Twist blog or newsletter, you can get a copy of the ebook edition for free? You also get exclusive articles and the occasional members-only discounts and freebies. Check it out!

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Journaling to Become a Better Writer

Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction

Your life is not boring. It is the key to great fiction.

How do you capture that spark of life that lifts your story off the page and resonates with readers in their very soul? You delve into your own soul and learn how to wrap words around your unique human experience, that’s how. And the best way to do that is to keep a journal. These seven techniques to apply to your journal will help you marry the authenticity of the real world to the imaginations of your story worlds:

  • How do you recognize a story worth telling?
  • How do you bring structure and power to a story?
  • How do you tap into your own emotions to fill your novel with heart?
  • How do you hone your observation skills?
  • How do you engagingly describe your world?
  • How do you make your characters real?
  • How do you find your unique purpose as a writer?

Not your average book on the craft of writing, the author bares pages from her own journal to illustrate her techniques and the level of storytelling skill that can be achieved in your journal. These same excerpts unfold, in real time, the story of the most traumatic plot twist of her life: the stripping away of her family and her search for someone to finally call “Daddy”—a quest which almost claimed her life.

Part writing how-to book, part memoir, part self-discovery guide, this volume will show you what the everyday events of your life have to do with great fiction. Your life, after all, is a story.

 

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Coming in September 2015 to print!

Journaling Is Good for the Author’s Heart, Soul, and Writing

A guest post by Wendy L. Macdonald

Originally published at International Christian Fiction Writers and reprinted with permission.

A vintage shabby-chic trunk in our cozy den holds a menagerie of my fabric-covered and spiral-bound journals. Thirty-two years’ worth of words lay poured onto the private pages of these notebooks. How has journaling been helpful for this author’s heart, soul, and writing?

Journaling sharpens an author’s ability to shape stories and characters. Although I’m new to writing full-length fiction manuscripts, I’ve had much experience dreaming up plot lines without even realizing it. Eighteen months ago my dear husband suggested I start a novel. He said this shaking his head in response to my vivacious imagination.

There are many examples of my exuberant mind written within the pages of my journals, such as the time I stopped my family from eating baked goods that had been given to us because I wondered about the numerous sudden deaths that had occurred in the giver’s social sphere. (I’ve sworn my family to secrecy about this crazy moment of mine.) But that incident helped shape one of my first manuscript’s characters. And I suspect other antagonists will be birthed from incidents saved within my journal.

2015-07-13 JournalsJournaling improves deep point-of-view writing skills. A diary won’t do. A journal is for recording our inner thoughts and feelings about what has transpired rather than simply documenting events. Pathos, fear, joy, and passion are a few especially helpful emotions to take advantage of. And it’s this depth of articulation that most benefits our fiction work. How can we write effectively about our protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses if we’re not in conscious contact with our own?

Journaling helps us tap into the inner-motivations of our characters. There’s nothing new under the writer’s quill because we all share the same universal issues (love, family, faith, birth, death, and everything in between). Authors generally use the same proven story structure, yet they must still strive to create unique character arcs with one-of-a-kind plots.

The experience of keeping a journal can give our fiction writing a sharper edge when we mine treasures from our characters’ thoughts (as well as from our own). If we can write a story that pulls others into a realistic world shared from the deep recesses of the protagonist’s heart and mind, the reader won’t want to put the book down. There’s something about intimacy that draws us in, much like a campfire does. Entering one’s own thoughts into a journal makes us more self-aware and potentially more observant of our fictional characters’ desires, secrets, and vulnerabilities. And that makes for good writing.

2015-07-13 HandwritingJournaling alleviates stress through the writing pilgrimage. Recording our prayer requests, our praises, and our personal progress keeps us honest and motivated with our current manuscripts and self-care. The stress-reducing effects of journaling kick in when we write poignantly. From what I’ve been reading it’s not just a newbie, like me, who gets overwhelmed and discouraged in this ever-changing literary landscape. Authors we know and admire have had to rethink their strategies, too.

Journaling gives the author permission to leave their concerns within their private pages, go forth, and share their stories. Write. Read. Edit. Query (or Self-Publish). Submit. Repeat. We can trust God to answer our written requests according to his perfect timing while we’re busy doing our part as writers.

Journaling IS good for the author’s heart, soul, and writing! How has it helped you?

About the Author

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Wendy L. Macdonald is an inspirational mystery/ romance writer and poet who loves both the Creator and His creation. When she’s not writing she enjoys nature photography, hiking, and gardening. She has been married to her best friend and husband, Ian, for almost 32 years and has homeschooled their three children for over a decade. The Comox Valley on Vancouver Island is her home and inspiration for her first novel manuscript—which she is currently seeking to have published. She loves to engage with readers and other writers on all of her sites. Wendy is a member of The Word Guild (Canadian) and American Christian Fiction Writers.

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Honesty in Writing

Authors, today we are pleased to have Nat Russo as our guest. This post originally appeared at his blog, A Writer’s Journey and is published here with permission. (Thanks, Nat!) This is one of my personal favorite pieces on writing – deserving of classic status. So please give Nat a big welcome, and enjoy!

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by Nat Russo

There are many bits of common writerly wisdom that I tweet on a regular basis using the #writetip hashtag. Some of these nuggets are mine and others are parroting the masters. Most are widely held to be axiomatic, but some are confusing or enigmatic. Such is the limitation of 160 characters.

One of the more confusing writetips deals with honesty in writing.

Above all else, be honest in your writing. Readers sense fakes a mile away. #writetip

Whenever this one comes up in the rotation, I get a flood of questions. I get some heated, sarcastic answers as well, but that’s to be expected from time to time. In general, there’s an overwhelming confusion among aspiring authors about just what it means to “be honest” in one’s writing. I understand this confusion. I once shared it.

It is at once the most simple and most elusive quality to attain. But attaining it is a must! For once you have it, you’ll write with a confidence you’ve never known before. Take this quote from Mark Twain:

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

– Mark Twain

You’ve heard this before, I’m sure, in many contexts. But I’m betting you’ve never considered its application to writing.

Disclaimers And Caveats

This is a very complex topic. Make no mistake about it. I’m convinced that any attempt to address this head-on will come across as nothing more than a cartoon picture of the truth. In the realm of the subjective, one person’s truth is quite often another person’s bullshit. I believe the best we can hope to achieve is a set of concepts that, once synthesized, put us in the ballpark of what “honesty in writing” actually means.

Don’t take this as some sort of pontifical, exhaustive, canonical list of items. Instead, use each of these (or the whole) as a launching point to spark thoughts of what “truth in writing” means to you.

Ok, let’s give it a good, old-fashioned college try, shall we?

What Honesty Isn’t

There’s one thing I want to clear up right from the beginning. When I coach writers to be honest, I’m not talking about factual information. I’m not talking about getting your research correct. I’m not talking about making sure your dates are accurate, or your grammar is perfect. I’m not talking about selecting the proper usage of words.

So what am I talking about?

In my reflection on this topic, I’ve uncovered at least seven concepts that I think play into what being honest in your writing means.

Let’s start with you the writer.

Know Thyself

I believe to my core that you’ll never be capable of honesty…not really…until you know yourself. Everything else I say about honesty in writing from this point forward is going to need a heavy dose of self-knowledge. In fact, I want to go out on a limb here and say something I haven’t heard uttered on writing blogs or in the craft books I’ve read. At least not explicitly. If you’re not accustomed to periodic reflection, your writing isn’t as good as it could be. 

I don’t see a possibility for success in writing unless you cultivate the ability to turn within and evaluate yourself and your experiences. You must have the ability to process your inner life and place it in context if you’re going to successfully convey the inner lives of your fictional characters. Because, after all, your characters are nothing if not an extension of yourself. I strongly suspect this is why many writing teachers recommend journaling. I’m not saying you need to journal. I’m actually not much of a journaler, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time in my own head. I’m pretty sure I picked this up during my Philosophy degree, and it’s been both a blessing and a curse throughout my life. But I can say this with certainty: my writing would be a shadow of what it is now if I wasn’t a reflective person.

Embrace your inner philosopher. Remember the words of Socrates: “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.”

Nat Russo Quote, Process Your Inner Life

Going Too Far

Like everything else on this topic (as you’ll see), going too far can take many forms. One form is something I like to call kitchen sink syndrome. Most writers starting out in genre fiction learn about something called the Try/Fail Cycle. [Aside: How have I NOT written an article about the Try/Fail Cycle Yet?!?] The Try/Fail cycle is pretty much what it sounds like. The short version: after you pull your lead character(s) through the first plot point (the point of no return), you set him/her on a series of tasks that they typically fail at, until they reach another turning point and start into the home stretch.

When new writers learn about the Try/Fail Cycle, they’re like a carpenter with a new hammer: every problem is a nail. Every minute goal of every minor character has a try/fail cycle. At this point, they’re no longer being true to the story. Instead, they’re often padding for word count.

But plot is just one area where there’s a danger of going too far. You can also go too far with characterization, profanity, sex, violence, you name it. No, literally. That’s not a cop-out. Name literally any element of the craft, and you can go too far with it if you don’t know yourself and your story well enough. And there’s no easy-cheesy graph I can show you that depicts the proper amount of any one of these elements! Too much sex for a Fantasy novel is probably not enough for Erotica. Not enough profanity for gritty, adult Fantasy is probably too much for YA.

If you’re going too far, it’s because you either lack the confidence of subtlety, or it’s because you don’t know your story/genre well enough. Either way, it’s a form of being dishonest in your writing. In the former, you’re not being true to yourself. In the latter, you’re not being true to your audience.

Not Going Far Enough

I’m sure you’ve read books that just sort of fell flat, and it infuriated you because the underlying concept or story seed was so good. You feel as if the author squandered their own assets! I experienced this watching the first season of Dominion. First off, I want to be clear: I LOVE that show! I mean, come on! Metaphysical Fantasy is my jam! Archangels! Demons! Heroes with mystical tattoos! I’m feelin’ it!

But one question kept going through my mind: “You mean to tell me you have access to an archangel. In fact, some would say the archangel, and you never once think to ask a single theological question?” Not once in season one of the show does the main character think to ask Michael the Archangel something along the lines of “So…this God dude….um…yeah…WHAT’S HE LIKE?” I mean…give me SOMETHING, for Pete’s sake!

This is a trite example. Like I said, the show is great, and I think it’s incredibly well-written. But the concept is this: your story and your characters will compel certain directions, a certain depth, a certain tone. If you pull back because you’re afraid of what you’ll discover…perhaps about yourself…then you’re not being honest in your writing. If you pull back because you haven’t done your homework on the subject matter, the reader is going to know. And they’ll call you on it.

Avoiding Inconvenient Characterizations

What do I mean by inconvenient? Frankly, I mean avoiding certain characterizations for personal reasons. You may be a devoutly religious person, and writing a slimy character makes you feel  slimy. Or, it may scare you because you know your character is a small extension of yourself, and that gives you some existential angst. Yet your story demands  it, and you refuse to give.

In other words, your character, within the context of the story, demands to go a certain direction…a direction you’re entirely uncomfortable with for [insert whatever reason you can imagine here]. Your response is to change the story so that you simply don’t have to “go there.” Like it or not, this is a form of dishonesty in your writing.

For example: If you have a strong personal aversion to profanity, yet you insist on writing dialogue-heavy stories involving gang members doing drug deals, people familiar with the speech patterns of gangstas are going to see right through your facade. You’ll be out of your depth, and it will show. Until you wrestle with your own inhibitions, and convince yourself that it’s OK to write about a subject you consider dark…and do it justice in the process…any attempt to cover that subject is going to come across as shallow and ham-fisted.

Again, it’s not the specifics of profanity in fiction that are under examination here. It’s the idea of grappling with a subject you’re uncomfortable with and allowing your personal inhibitions to keep your work from being its best. If you tap dance around a subject that your story is screaming  to be dealt with directly, your readers will call you on it.

Jumping On The Bandwagon

This one is fairly straightforward. If you truly have a “Twilight” or “Hunger Games” within, then please write that story! The world does, in fact, need to hear your take on the genre. The problem isn’t the existence of commercially successful novels! The problem is when we writers come along and think “hmmm…there’s a lot of money to be made on teenage vampires. Guess I need to write a book with teenage vampires.”

Nothing wrong on the surface of that…if you truly have a teenage vampire novel inside you. I’ve said before that I may be an artist, but I’m not allergic to money. However, if you don’t really have one of these novels in you, you’re going to be forcing tripe onto the page because you think (in a misguided way) that the mere presence of teenage vampires (or name your poison) is going to make it a commercial success.

There’s a difference between “writing something that’s trendy” and “chasing a trend”. If you’re being true to your story, the former is out of your control. The latter, however, is completely within your control. And, as I’ve said on Twitter from time to time, it’s misguided because by the time you recognize the trend, it’s too late to exploit anyway.

Honesty In Your Voice

This is a tricky one for most new writers, because it’s rare to find your voice right out of the gate. It takes time to develop, and it’s a living, breathing entity unto itself! A writer’s voice rarely stays the same, because the writer rarely stays the same. New writers often mimic what they’ve read, or what they think their writing should sound like. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! We learn in large part through imitation. However, it’s often done poorly. Instead of assimilating the conceptual knowledge we glean from other writers, we often start by copying their choice of words, or their rhythm and patterns. The end result is that we create something that sounds writerly instead of something that truly represents our natural voice.

As I’ve mentioned above, if you’re not really being yourself, then you’re being dishonest in your writing. By being yourself, I’m not saying your narrative voice should sound like you’re speaking voice! But I am saying it should be your voice, and not your favorite author’s voice.

Emotional Dishonesty

I left this one for last, because I think it’s one of the most important notions to consider.

Writing is a scary activity to engage in. Always has been, and always will be. To be successful at this gig, you have to open yourself up, rip things out, and place them on display for the world to see. There’s no side-stepping it. And there are no short cuts.

You are going to have to face your emotional reality.

You are who you are, and there’s no way to avoid it. If you were abused as a child, it will come out in your writing whether you like it or not. If you were raped, it will come out in your writing. If you’re suffering from clinical depression, it will come out in your writing. If you’ve dealt with addiction, it will come out in your writing. If you have been a victim of abuse of authority (as I have), it will come out in your writing.

If you try to stop this, or artificially control it, you’ll never rise to the greatness you’re capable of.

You have to face the reality of your past. Like I said in “Know Thyself” above, you have to be able to reflect on your life and put things into perspective. Anything else is artificially limiting yourself.

You deserve better.

Your readers deserve better.

They deserve your emotional honesty.

As I said, this is a complex topic. There are so many ways in which we fail to be honest in our writing that it’s impossible to list all of them here. I think at the end of the day if you take “Know Thyself” to heart, your writing will be head and shoulders above other writers’ work.

About the Author

Nat Russo, AuthorNat Russo was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He’s spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing/gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenage son, and mischievous beagle.

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About His Book

Necromancer Awakening by Nat Russo“Knowledge in the absence of wisdom is a dangerous thing.”

Texas archaeology student Nicolas Murray has an ironic fear of the dead. A latent power connecting him to an ancient order of Necromancers floods his mind with impossible images of battle among hive-mind predators and philosopher fishmen. When a funeral service leaves him shaken and questioning his sanity, the insidious power strands him in a land where the sky kills and earthquakes level cities. A land where the undead serve the living, and Necromancers summon warriors from ancient graves to fight in a war that spans life and afterlife.

If Nicolas masters the Three Laws of Necromancy, he can use them to get home. But as he learns to raise and purify the dead—a process that makes him relive entire lifetimes in the span of a moment—the very power that could bring him home may also prevent his return. For the supreme religious leader, the Archmage Kagan, has outlawed Necromancy, and its practitioners risk torture and execution.

As warring nations hunt Necromancers to extinction, countless dead in limbo await a purification that may never come.

Nicolas’s power could be his way home…

Or it could save a world that wants him dead.

Necromancer AwakeningThe Road To Dar Rodon

My Double Life Crisis

A Guest Post by S. Usher Evans

Stars and CompassWhen one thinks of science fiction, one imagines space ships, gruff characters surviving the harshest conditions, and lots of faster-than-light zipping across the galaxy. Identity crises and learning to love oneself aren’t usually at the top of people’s lists. Even less so – using a science fiction book to heal emotionally and conquer one’s fears. But that’s exactly what happened when I self-published my first novel, Double Life.

At the end of 2013, I was in a pretty dark place, and finally decided to seek therapy to help me deal with the war in my head. In the first session, I mentioned how I seemed to have two completely different people living in my head. The first, Whit (my real name), was an intense, marathon-running, dog-rescuing, home-remodeling consultant who had aspirations of executive leadership. The other was a dramatic, creative, fearless (and utterly shameless) author whom I gave the moniker Suni (as in Sunny; Sun’s Golden Ray was my first screen name way back when).

The “girls,” as I call them, never really got along. So, obviously, the therapist suggested that I consider embracing both halves of myself. In that spirit, I created a Facebook page and told everyone I was releasing a book. Although there are many in the ol’ “mind palace,” I opted to revise and publish Double Life, the first book in a science fiction series. I chose this story as it was the most complete, not knowing that it was almost a perfect allegory to my own impending dual-identity crisis.

In the book, my main character, Lyssa, is living two distinct lives. She very much would like to be a space pirate bounty hunter, but, being a female, is not allowed to play with the men. To pay the bills, she’s stuck in her old life, struggling with a side of herself that is reviled by everyone, including her own family. I never actually saw the parallels between her journey and my own, until I was doing final revisions at the end of the book.

Lyssa travels to a fantastical place between heaven and hell. This netherworld was a plot device to help my wayward main character come to terms with herself, smashing together the two halves of her so she could accept both of them equally. She reflects on the hatred of Lyssa and how many people have abandoned her, and realizes that she, too, has abandoned herself. In fact, she’s been the worst offender.

When I wrote that paragraph in the manuscript, it elicited an emotional response so deep I felt it in my soul.

As I sat there, stunned at my own words, I realized that I, too, was guilty of abandoning myself. I had put aside writing and creative pursuits because I was afraid what others would say, afraid of being myself, afraid of being broke, afraid it would result in some catastrophe that I would never recover from. Everything I was doing with my life – even running the marathons – I was doing because I was afraid. But I wasn’t going to be afraid anymore (There were a lot of “Let it Go” solos in my car for a few months).

Eight months later, I’ve published Double Life  and written its sequel (due out in March). But the biggest change I’ve seen in myself is my own happiness. Life is not perfect, I am still anxious, emotional, and stuck in a job that I do not enjoy. But just as Lyssa learns both halves of her double life can work harmoniously together, Whit and Suni have banded together to rationally (and irrationally, when needed) work through whatever life throws my way. I have stopped letting fear dictate my every thought, finding peace in chaos, courage in the face of the unknown, and confidence that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.

I think that the more fantastical the setting, the more truthful the confessions. Science fiction takes readers to the deepest reaches of space to expose real human truths. For me, it took a journey with a stubborn bounty hunter to understand that it’s impossible to find your heaven while putting part of yourself through hell.

About Our Guest Blogger

IMG_0003_2S. Usher Evans is an author, blogger, and witty banter aficionado. Born in a small, suburban town in northwest Florida, she was seventeen before she realized that not all beach sand is white. From a young age, she has always been a long-winded individual, first verbally (to the chagrin of her ever-loving parents) and then eventually channeled into the many novels that dotted her Windows 98 computer in the early 2000’s. After high school, she got the hell outta dodge and went to school near the nation’s capital, where she somehow landed jobs at National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, capping off her educational career with delivering the commencement address to 20,000 of her closest friends. She determined she’d goofed off long enough with that television nonsense and got a “real job” as an IT consultant. Yet she continued to write, developing 20 page standard operating procedures and then coming home to write novels about badass bounty hunters, teenage magic users, and other nonsense. After a severe quarter life crisis at age 27, she decided to finally get a move on and share those novels with the world in hopes that she will never have to write another SOP again.

Where to Find Her

About Her Book

DoubleLifePiracy is a game. How much are you worth?

Since she was a little girl, everyone – from her father to the Great Creator himself – told Lyssa Peate the same thing: she’s worthless. But when she becomes the pirate bounty hunter Razia, she can see the price tag on her own head. Employed by one of the four pirate syndicates, she uses bank transactions and her considerable wits to capture rival members. At least, she would be if Razia’s boss ever gave her a chance. It’s a man’s world, and all she’s allowed to hunt are purse snatchers while she languishes on probation.

To pay the bills, she’s stuck in her old life as Lyssa, discovering and analyzing distant planets and selling them for cash. She’s doing just enough to stay out of trouble, pretending to be continuing her father’s mysterious research while away for long periods of time. Her slimy boss is always asking questions and even assigns one of her younger brothers, Vel, to intern with her. Already struggling to keep the balance between her double lives, she tries everything to rid herself of the kid…

…until the universal police mistake Lyssa’s intern for Razia’s hostage.

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