Category Archives: Writing Tips

Developing Strong Characters

Whether a manuscript crosses an editor’s desk, or is loaded onto an e-reader, readers will read on if the author invents characters in which they’re invested.

Intention vs Reaction.

There are a lot of ways to do that—resonance, unique situations, careful plotting–but the clear path most often missed in the manuscripts I read, is “protagonist’s choice, not reaction.”

It’s easy to miss opportunities for the protagonist to make choices.

Events happen in Act 1  that feel strong enough knock the protagonist into Act 2. But, it doesn’t matter how perilous or unique the events we devise for a story may be, if the hero is simply reacting to events, then we don’t have an engaging character.

Events force choices.

Those choices should be grindingly difficult for the protagonist to make. In this way, the same events that provoked mere reaction in a first draft, create satisfying character development in a second draft.  And the reader reads on.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.

Cheers, Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Senior Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume, here

Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

Climbing Mountains, Placing Description. Writing Tips from Pulp Literature Press.

It kills me when I hear readers complain that there’s too much description in a book. In my experience as an acquisitions editor, most “unneccesary” description is only misplaced.

“When you’re writing a book, it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across mountains and valleys and things, and you get the first view of something and you write it down.” -Roald Dahl

3 places readers need us to give them description.

  1. While the POV character is pursuing the story goal, it’s vital to show what’s going on. Not during the planning, not during the reaction to raised stakes, but during the active quest for the goal.
  2. When the reader is gagging to know what is in the letter, under the carpet, or outside the door. Make the reader wait with a bit of description.
  3. After the POV character has reacted to the raised stakes, there is a moment to remember what’s at stake. Descriptive writing is absolutely necessary here to remind the character, and readers, exactly why the struggle is necessary.

“Then you walk a bit further, maybe up onto the top of a hill, and you see something else. Then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book, because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see that everything you’ve done all ties up.” -Roald Dahl

A great example of description perfectly placed and timed to move the story onwards.

Take a look at the scene in Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie has found a dollar and will buy a chocolate bar. Magic.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.

Cheers, Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Senior Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume, here

Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

Swan in morning

Designing Great Writing Mornings. Writing Tips from Pulp Literature Press.

“The desk in the room, near the bed, with a good light, midnight to dawn, a drink when you get tired…” -Jack Kerouac

Good old handsome Kerouac, rolling up his shirt sleeves, drinking and typing at speed through the nights into the mornings. Who doesn’t love On the Road, jouncing around in the back of a flatbed, arguing that the best road trip money spent on nutrition must be apple pie with ice cream?

But Jack, some of us writers like our sleep. And, family and friends, at the end of a day, not slam-writing all night.

We want great lives, as well as excellent writing careers.

“I start early in the morning. I’m usually out in the woods with the dog as soon as it gets light; then I drink a whole lot of tea and start as early as I can, and I go as long as I can…” – Robert Stone.

Writing Tip: Your Great Writing Mornings

There’s got to be a personal happy medium. So on this first week of the new year, take a moment to list 3 ways to devise a tradition to bring even better mornings to a writing career.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Senior Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume, here

Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

Act II: Impossible Choices

I’ve read successful stories that skimped on the darkest hour and the showdown. I’ve enjoyed books that were slow to offer Act I’s promise. But, ask a reader to miss out on the enjoyment of Act II character-developing adventures? Never.

Impossible choices

The hard and often impossible choices characters make in Act II and throughout the story, keep us reading. We are invested in characters that grow inwardly as well as outwardly.

So, here’s a question for Act II: are the skills and allies your hero is gaining a result of simply struggling against obstacles? Or are they achieved after making difficult choices in that struggle? The former makes for a great synopsis, but the latter creates an unforgettable read.

Check for difficult choices in Act II

Often acquisitions editors stop reading at the beginning of Act II. If they have the time to write and tell you why, they’ll offer something like “the inner voice failed” or “the momentum slowed.” That often means that character development needs strengthening, and checking for hard choices is a reliable way to master that.

Act I  gives us the promise of genre. Act II fulfills that promise, as the hero struggles through to the darkest hour at the end of Act Two, and on to Act III’s final showdown.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.

Cheers, Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

 

Act 1 Checklist: Writing Tips from Pulp Literature Press

What Billy Wilder said of screenwriting works as well for novelists. “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

A Checklist For Your Act 1

  • An opening paragraph or page that communicates time, place, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
  • A harbinger of change in the hero’s life.
  • The theme of the whole tale early on, possibly stated by a supporting character.
  • Character development in the hero (and other characters), possibly while attempting to preserve the status quo.
  • A catalyst that will propel the hero into the adventures of Act 2.
  • As well, it can help to do a page count to see that Act 1 is not longer than the current plans for Act 2 or 3.

And, on to the adventures of Act 2.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.
Cheers to you,
Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is a founding editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get The Writer’s Friend and Confidante: Thirty Days of Narrative Achievement.  Only available for the month of November.

Other books by Mel Anastasiou from Pulp Literature Press
Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries

 

 

The Writers’ Boon Companion

 

 

Slushpile Confidential: 3 ways to get your submissions right

The Pulp Literature submissions window is open until November 15th. Last week we revealed three reasons slush pile readers pass on submissions. Now we’ll reveal three things that make slush readers swipe right.

  1. Do your research. We don’t expect you to know everything, but good writers do their homework. Whether it’s creating realistic fight scenes, composing diverse characters, or following our submission guidelines, we appreciate when authors put in the effort to get the details right.
  2. Tension and suspense. Readers are curious creatures, and they want conflict! Writers who know how to arouse the reader’s curiosity and manipulate the tension of the story will win points with slush readers as well.
  3. Originality. This should be no surprise:  readers want something fresh. That can seem daunting, but trust us, everyone has at least one original story waiting to be read.  Be sure to read a few issues of the magazine to make sure you’re not submitting something too similar to what we’ve already published.

Of course, each slush reader is going to bring personal preferences to the mix, and there are plenty of nuanced reasons even good stories are rejected. Just remember it’s nothing personal and perseverance is key! And be sure to read our article, Slushpile Confidential: 3 Mistakes That Will Sink your Submission.

Submissions Guidelines

 

Nanowrimo: 3 good reasons to take the plunge

Nanowrimo says, go ahead, dare to write a book that might even make you a lot of money, help others along with ourselves to get pages under our belts, and have writerly fun doing it. It makes a lot of sense to go Nanowrimo.

1. Write that book and have fun doing it.

For some of us, the fun lies in scoring high in wordcounts: there’s nothing like seeing those manuscript pages stack up.  The friendly competition between like-minded authors, as well as rewards you can give yourself at the end of the day (beer, chocolate, kitten gifs … ) turns writing into a game that’s fun to play.  And if it turns into a bestseller some day, those are the ultimate bonus points!

2. Hone your skill.

Like any skill, such as playing an instrument, drawing a portrait, or throwing a baseball, writing needs to be practised over and over again.  Even if you’re not at the stage in your career where you have a winning novel just waiting to be born, your writing chops will sharpen simply by churning out 2000 words a day.  Guaranteed, you’ll be a better writer at the end of it.

3. Help other writers live their dream.

As well, our Nanowrimo participation encourages and helps others who need some support to take steps towards writing the novel that’s been a dream for years. They love knowing that  they’re not alone in what sometimes seems like a lonely profession.

Get the help you want

It makes good sense to get tailor-made support for the days ahead.  Our contribution to the cause is making The Writer’s Friend and Confidante: Thirty Days of Narrative Achievement pdf version available now.  Get your copy while it’s hot, because this 30-day guide is available only till the end of Nanowrimo.

The Writer’s Friend and Confidante, like any good pal, cheers you when you’re low, motivates you to write your best work yet, helps you develop a map of narrative clarity, and believes in you with every fibre of her being.

In our Confidante you’ll find thirty days of inspiration, tips and exercises, timely advice for each act of your story, and images to feed your eye and make you smile when you approach every lily-pale page.

Nanowrimers, you’ll love the 30 days to keep you inspired to make it to the end.  This guide is your assistant, reminding you of the dreams that set you off on your narrative journey, and offering hints, tips, exercises, and inspiration to see you through to your goal.

Only $10 gets you our printable, illustrated, re-usable PDF workbook during Nanowrimo.

Are you a hard-copy purist?  Prefer the printed page?  In that case, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume is the friend for you.  A daily writing guide to help you through a month of your work in progress.  Perfect for NaNoWriMo … or any month of the year.

Writing tip. Dishing in Acquisitions

It’s no secret that acquisitions editors have red flags. We twitch when we see spelling errors or the wrong publishing house’s name in the cover letter.

However, as a group we do appreciate authors who write with authority, finding ways of getting time of day, setting, tone, the promise of genre, and some hint at the central conflict up front.  We want to know, “What is this story about?” And, “Why should our readers care about this protagonist?”

Heroes and Villains: Not All Good or All Bad.

Alien 2’s flesh-eating monster cared about her children, and Narnia hero Digory’s vanity echoed his Uncle Andrew’s. Happily, unflawed white-hat heroes rarely sail in and out of my acquisitions in-box.  The trouble is that, more often these days, I read heroes that are bad through and through.  It’s pretty easy to write an all-bad hero. Balancing flaws believably, perhaps with some small sacrifice or reluctant, kind act, are a couple of ways to show narrative skill.

And, inside the acquisitions in-box, I read on.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers to you. Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume, here. 

Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

 

 

 

 

The Big, Bright, and Butt-chair Goal

Every goal you write takes you a step closer to your grand and astonishing dreams. –Thaddeus, The Writer’s Boon Companion.

The Big Bright Goal

The big goal is worth writing down right now, and even on a daily basis. For example: I am a best-selling fantasy author.  I publish one or two novels a year, and I love speaking at fantasy conferences and talking with my readers.

The Butt-Chair Goal

If you too are a fan of Steven King’s On Writing, you know that his aim is 1,000 words a day.  Which means getting your butt in a chair and writing. My personal goal is 3,000 words a week to a cogent outline. That gives me two short novels a year.  Your writing tip prompt is to  jot down your butt-chair goal now.

The Yearly Goal

How many books written, how many books sold, where to focus new learning?  Yearly goals almost necessitate charts and erasable felts. This sends us to the stationery story on a righteous mission. Because, when writers note down goals for the year, whether in general terms, as in big bright and butt-in-chair goals, the activity keeps our feet on the ground, and our heads in that creative space which designs and executes unique, exciting reads for our readerships.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Senior Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume, here.  Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

 

 

 

Running with the Theme

Here’s a fun game—spot the theme, as stated in the first half of the first act of the novel or film, usually by a supporting character or similar. What about the moment in Spectre when Moneypenny, on the phone with Bond, tells James she can’t help him just then because she has a life, and he should get one too?  Because, there may be shooting, peril, fab inventions, and mad escapes, but in my view (not the only view, obviously) the film’s theme is, It’s hard to get a life, when you’re Bond.

 Your Writing Tip: Run with the Theme.

In The Wizard of Oz, look for Professor Marvel to state the theme in his conversation with the runaway Dorothy in Act 1. The theme is repeated throughout. There’s no place like home. So, for a strong line, write out the theme 3-6 different ways. You can use each of these in strong but subtle ways to draw out the theme throughout the story.

One Theme, Several Ways.

Here’s part of a list of different views on the same theme that I wrote for ‘Stella Ryman and the Ghost at the End of the Bed’, the ninth Fairmount Manor Mystery novella starring my octogenarian sleuth, trapped in a down-at-heel care home. (Pulp Literature, Issue 16.)

  1. Reach out or die.
  2. Without connection, we’re just bundles of cells in fleece warm-up suits.
  3. If we can let go of loving people, we might form new and greater passions. What would they be?
  4. Or, maybe it’s the other way around, and all the love we feel makes supports for more passions.
  5. In Fairmount Manor we residents are like hermits or saints, who must connect to nature because we’ve cut ties with the world.

(The author takes no responsibility for the views of her characters.)

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel.

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Senior Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume.  Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.