Tag 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.

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Reflective Practice for a Writing Career

Writing is a demanding profession. That’s partly why we chose it. And, as with all exacting professions, the learning process continues forever.

It’s About the Process

It’s been years since we realized that becoming a writer is not about arriving someplace. We never stop becoming writers. We try our craft, inspiration, and imagination against those of our most admired models and masters, who will have done the same in their time.

Reflective Practice

Of course, charging ahead with planning, drafting, and revising pleases our enterprising spirits. However, looking back over the week is a professional habit that brings new levels of learning.

One Week at a Time

Taking a few moments once a week to set down the week’s learning, in anecdotal or even point form, goes a long way towards creating a solid platform for next week’s work.

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.

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.

 

Coming soon from Pulp Literature Press: The Writer’s Friend and Confidante, a 30 day guide to narrative progress, written and illustrated by Mel Anastasiou.

Everything Changes in Publishing. Thank Goodness.

Everything changes in this world of writing and publishing.  The truth remains: there’s never been a better time to write and publish.  We’re told the opposite, of course. However, if you drive your time machine back thirty years or eighty years, you’ll hear the same old discouraging comments.  I’m convinced that could one accompany Louisa May Alcott to her first interviews with publishers, we’d hear them say that it’s all much harder now than it used to be.

Changes Past

Penguin Books have always been my publishing heroes.  Nearly anything they publish is worth reading, and if I ever in my life threw one of their paperbacks across the room, it was only to utter a heartfelt, Damn, I’ll never write that well.  And then pick it up again. (And vow to try until my dying day to write that well).

Changes Bring Opportunity

When Penguin started out, with the idea of getting excellent books out for sale for the same price as ten cigarettes, the naysayers had a lot to say.  “Nobody will stock paperback reprints, for they are useless, grubby, dog-eared calumnies of paper and card,” they sang.  (I paraphrase).  Naysayers predicted rapid failure.  Penguin smiled and sent a young staffer to the Regents Park Zoo, where he drew the first penguin logo.  A decade later this same staffer captained a WW2 submarine and wrote about it (grippingly), and Penguin published that book as their thousandth paperback.

Changes Within Our Control

All times are great times to be a writer, because it’s not about the era.  It’s about the attitude.

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.

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 you through 30 days of hints and help with narrative structure. Coming soon, The Writer’s Friend and Confidante: Thirty Days of Narrative Achievement. Designed with Nanowrimo in mind, but works any thirty days you’ve got.

From Pulp Literature Press

 

Decisions, Decisions. Saving Mental Energy for Writing.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits … I’m trying to pare down decisions.  I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing.  Because I have too many other decisions to make.”  Barack Obama, interviewed in Vanity Fair

All the decisions and judgements we make in our daily lives keep said lives rolling nicely along.  However, each large and small decision takes its toll on our writing powers.

Cherry Picking Decisions

Also, I like to make certain decisions.  I want to decide what I’ll be eating.  So, perhaps it’s possible to shift some decisions around, or group them.  A week’s menu put together once a week can lift the worry of what’s for supper, which can be a real judgement sapper for those of us responsible for seeing that everybody in the house stays fed and healthy.  My method is a small notebook, with a week’s rough plan on the left, and shopping lists on the right. Wastage has been greatly reduced as well.

“Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else’s time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash. How’s that for incentive to be effective and efficient?” ― Timothy FerrissThe 4-Hour Workweek

What decisions or judgements that an author makes daily or weekly, which don’t serve our writing or our family, can be eliminated?

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. She 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 you through 30 days of hints and help with narrative structure.

From Pulp Literature Press