RSS Feed

Category Archives: Journey

2013 in Review: Top 5 Posts of the Year

Posted on
Fireworks - New Year - Top Blog Posts of 2013 - Novel Conclusions Literary Blog - Writing Blog

Spider Firework, Omiya, Japan via Wikimedia Commons

January is a fantastic time for reflection on the previous year.  As 2014 swirls around us in anticipation of all the lovely projects we’re creating and building, this is a great time to assess where we are.  2013 proved to be a fantastic year of growth for the Novel Conclusions blog, thanks to all of you who are visiting and reading and commenting and generally being supportive.  I love creating conversation and fostering good writing and writing-related ideas.

In honor of the conclusion of 2013, I’d like to share the 5 most popular Novel Conclusions posts of 2013, courtesy of the WordPress stats genie.  Although my semi-controversial take on TFA is an outlier, it seems that my meaty writing discussion posts have been attracting the most attention over my flightier infographic posts (though those are fun and will definitely continue to appear here now and then).  In descending order:

#5:  What Do Your Fears Say About You?
How can you use your characters’ fears to reveal more about them?

#4:  5 Things Olivia Blanchard Got Wrong: In Defense of Teach for America
In response to Olivia Blanchard’s piece in The Atlantic – a bit about my Teach for America experience, including quitting the program, and why I still think TFA makes a  difference

#3:  What’s So Great About Unreliable Narrators?
How having fantastically biased characters gives your novel some bite

#2:  What Makes Love Triangles So Compelling?
Why are so many of us fascinated by love triangles?

#1:  Inciting Incidents and Why They Rock Your Plot
How inciting incidents can be a magnificent tool for you to shape your plot and give your story staying power

It’s so much fun to find so many other writing and reading-related blogs and to part in and foster conversation about the book world.  I keep finding more new and creative sides to the book and writing world that I didn’t know before.

What was your most popular post on your blog this past year?  What do you find attracts readers to your blog?

Related Posts

5 Things I Learned in My First Year of Blogging

Posted on
Blog Anniversary - blogging tips - writing tips - Novel Conclusions literary blog - birthday candle

Birthday Candle by Ardfern via Wikimedia Commons

This week marks an entire year of blogging – October 23rd will be my one-year blog anniversary!  Happy Blog Birthday to Novel Conclusions!  In honor of this epically momentous occasion, I’ve decided to put together this gorgeous list of what I’ve learned about blogging.

  • I’m not alone.  There’s this whole community of writers and book bloggers and fan girls and people who just adore the English language.  Becoming a part of this super fun community encourages me to do more inside the writing arena (like participating in NaNoWriMo).  The book and writing community rocks!
  • Bonus:  Interacting with said community drives engagement on your blog.  Who woulda thought?  Catching up on what other writers and book enthusiasts are doing encourages people to drop by your blog and join the conversation.
  • Positive posts/notes/comments get the most love.  There was actually a report done about Facebook recently backing up this idea.  Outside of reports and etc., people in the blogosphere tend to be much friendlier than, say, commenters on a newspaper website or a gossip column – another reason the book and writing blogosphere is amazing.
  • It’s okay to occasionally break the cycle of your blog posts.  Your audience won’t immediately disappear.  I usually try to post about once a week.  Occasionally it will be more often, and sometimes when life is crazy, less often.  However, don’t wait too long between blog posts.  Two weeks is a little vacation.  Two months is more like starting over.
  • There’s a wealth of knowledge in the blogosphere about everything imaginable that’s related to books and writing.  Reading all the posts over at Nathan Bransford’s blog and Mary Kole’s blog would practically give you an MFA.  That’s not even mentioning other fantastic resources like Lynn Price at the Behler Blog or all the other agents and editors and authors with free, abundant, awesome writing and publishing tips. You can even interact with these people by commenting.  Craziness.

What have you all learned while blogging?  What have you done to streamline your blog?  What do you like (or dislike) that others do with their blogs?

P.S.  I also took this opportunity to discover that this blog’s sun sign is Libra, which apparently represents the element of air or intellect.  We can pretend that I planned that. 😉

P.P.S.  This shows a way cool map of indie bookstores in your area (and also confirmed my knowledge that LA is severely lacking in indie bookstores).

Raising the Stakes

Posted on
Cliffs at Étretat by Gustave Courbet via Wikimedia Commons

Cliffs at Étretat by Gustave Courbet via Wikimedia Commons

With National Novel Writing Month looming (frequently known as NaNoWriMo), I’ve been thinking quite a bit about outlining.  Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo without an outline, and the results were less than stellar.  Having an outline helps me write the nitty gritty of the story itself more quickly and more cleanly.

There are all kinds of resources out there to help you outline, but what matters most is what you put inside the outline.  One of the most important things holding your plot together will be the stakes and the ensuing tension those stakes develop.  The stakes for the same situation will be completely different depending on your character.  All of the Bennet girls in Pride and Prejudice had a strong stake in finding good marriages – as soon as their father passed on, they would be penniless and basically homeless if they didn’t have a (good) husband.  On the other hand, Jem in Rachel Ward’s Numbers had no such stake in a good marriage; in fact, I can imagine her scoffing at even the idea of getting married.  The stakes are completely different based on your characters and their objectives.

According to former literary agent Mary Kole, author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit, there are two different types of stakes, public stakes and private stakes.  Private stakes impact your character’s core identity.  Your main character may become completely torn up when her family loyalty is put on the line and she is unable to fulfill her role as the protector of her family (think Katniss in Hunger Games, contemplating her death and what will happen to her family if she dies).  Public stakes, on the other hand, bring in the larger world and the character’s relationship with it.  If the Bennet girls in Pride and Prejudice don’t get married, and get married to the right kind of men, they will be pitied as burdens on the community in addition to being penniless.

Many of the best kinds of stakes are a mixture of public stakes (relationship with the world) and private stakes (personal identity).  In Numbers, if Jem doesn’t share her secret, she may not be able to unravel the mystery in time to save Spider; however, if she does share her secret, people may not believe her, causing further consequences.

It’s important to ratchet up the stakes little by little as we go along, but we also have to take care not to go too far overboard.  Too far overboard can make us move into the realm of melodrama.  Melodrama happens when the characters’ emotions run too high to match their objectives.  If Johnny scratched his hand on a rock, he’s probably going to be irritated but not irate.  If the emotions run too high to match what’s happening, we may lead readers into farce.  Sounding like a sketch on SNL by accident is much worse than sounding like one on purpose.

What are our takeaways?

  • Ratchet up the stakes little by little
  • Include a mixture of public and private stakes
  • Don’t be melodramatic

What else would you add about raising the stakes?  How do you include stakes when you’re outlining?

Related Links

5 Everyday Ways to Spark Your Creativity

Posted on
Crayon Logs by Chris Metcalf via Wikimedia Commons

Crayon Logs by Chris Metcalf via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes the muse is hanging out on our shoulder, and the words just pour onto the page.  And sometimes, the muse has taken a lunch break … or maybe a long vacation.  How do you spark creativity in those situations?

First of all, let’s define creativity.  Dictionary.com says creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”  Creativity is not just limited to the arts.  It also has to do with invention and the sciences and the way you live your life every day.  Being more creative in your artistic life can help you innovate in other areas of life as well by expanding the way you think.  So how can we expand or shift the way we think?

(Disclaimer: try not to use these things to put off actually writing)

  1. Change your routine.  It doesn’t have to be something major; it could be as small as going to a different grocery store, taking a new route to work or school, or making a new recipe for dinner.
  2. Read.  If you’re writing, you probably read more than the average person already, but reading new stories almost always gives you a different perspective, at least briefly.  Read in your genre to see what others are writing about.  Read outside your comfort zone in genres you’d never write in – they will have a different feel than the genres you’re comfortable with.  Read nonfiction; I’ve found some of my best inspiration has come from nonfiction that helps me to look at the world in a different way, especially books about how the world works, like Outliers, Freakonomics, and most recently, The New Geography of Jobs (one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in years).  Books on writing are always a great source, too, like Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Save the Cat, and On Writing.
  3. Do something new.  Novelty helps your brain create new neural pathways.  Go on a little adventure – take a class, go to a new restaurant, go on a trip, learn something new.
  4. Journal.  Observe what’s going on around you.  Observing things in detail and/or organizing them into an order of events makes you look at them more closely than you normally would.  Free write in your journal; this is also called stream of consciousness writing.  It acts like a warm up for your brain.  You can set a timer, maybe 5 minutes, and don’t let your pen off the paper (or your fingers off the keyboard) until the timer goes up.  This might result in a little babble, but there may be some gems in there, too.
  5. Change your associations.  Associate with people who have similar goals, who work in the same field; these type of associations foster innovation and creativity (there’s a whole section on this in The New Geography of Jobs that I mentioned above – such a great read!).  This might mean joining a writing group, going to book signings and book festivals, and going to literary events and conferences.  This might mean blogging and visiting blogs of people with similar interests and goals.  You could also read books written by writers, agents, and others in the publishing business (this includes listening to audiobooks in the car – such a great use of traffic time).

How do you spark creativity?  What have I left off this list?

Related Links

How Can I Help Debut Authors? And Why Would I Want To?

Posted on
Transparent - Natalie Whipple - Debut Author 2013 - Novel Conclusions writing blog - writing tips

Transparent via nataliewhipple.com

Today is a very special day.  Today is the day that debut author Natalie Whipple’s book Transparent comes out.  Transparent is about a girl with the power to become invisible whose mob boss daddy makes her do crazy stuff – and she wants to escape.

What makes Natalie Whipple so special?  Well, as of last summer, I hadn’t written much of anything that wasn’t work-related in about 7 years, since I graduated from college.  At first, I wasn’t writing because I was teaching, and teaching in a bad area is an 80-hour-a-week job.  Later, I wasn’t writing because I had gotten out of the habit.  Last summer, I ran across Natalie Whipple’s blog, and I realized how much I really missed writing.  She inspired me to write again (Side note:  I’ve been following her blog since last summer, but I don’t comment on it frequently because of how often the Captcha ate my comments in the past.  Boo Captcha).  Although my current work in progress is far from finished, it is thousands of words more than it might have been if I hadn’t been re-energized by Natalie’s blog.

How can we help debut authors like Natalie Whipple?  And why do we want to?

Spread the word.  Tell your friends, ask for it at the library, post about it on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/etc., or even blog about it.

Buy the book within the first 3 months it comes out.  This seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating: if it’s an author you really want to support, actually buy the book.  The first 3 months are when publishers are watching.  Pre-order it or buy it in the store.  And then write the review afterwards.  Remember that buying it in a brick and mortar store does more for the author than buying it online.  If you buy the book in a store, that store is more likely to stock an additional copy or two – and shelf space is at a premium.  Shelf space is free advertising for books that they don’t get elsewhere.

Why should we support these hard working authors?  We should support them because good books need a leg up.  There is only a certain amount of publicity budget available at publishing houses these days (and even less budget available for many self-published and indie authors), and mid-list authors with great books can benefit from a few extra recommendations ever so much.  Getting the word out about authors and books we love is paying it forward.  Every single mention counts.  I’ve heard John Green got to where he is because his books spread virally before he made it big.

But, you say, there are so many!  Well, just pick a couple you’re excited about and spread the word.  Here’s a few sites to encourage your imagination:

What other advice would you add about supporting debut authors and their ever-so-fabulous debut novels?  Where else have you seen debut author listings online?

Related:

How a Book is Born

Posted on

Today is the day for a short post.  Galley Cat over at mediabistro.com recently shared this oh-so-fantastic infographic that absolutely deserves more blog love.  You can find the origin of the infographic over at weldonowen.com.

My favorite part of this infographic is that it is never ending; no matter where you are on the chart, you can end up with a book about goat farming (or publish a novel).  What would you add to this chart?  Perhaps a section on self-published books?  Perhaps a section on unicorns?

How a Book is Born infographic - Novel Conclusions - writing blog - literary blog - writing tips

How an Idea Becomes a Book via weldonowen.com

The Humor(ist) in Equal Rights

Posted on
Erma Bombeck - Novel Conclusions - Christi Gerstle - equal rights act

Aunt Erma’s Cope Book courtesy of Amazon

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” – Erma Bombeck

I celebrated my 30th birthday this week (eek! A whole new decade!), and I thought this was a good opportunity to recognize a pretty fantastic journalist and author who also has a February birthday, a woman who made a difference for authors everywhere, especially female authors.  This woman is Erma Bombeck.

I I grew up reading Bombeck’s hilarious schtick on family life and life in general.  My mom had a collection of Bombeck’s books, and I remember pulling them off the shelves at a fairly young age and reading them out loud to my mom while she made dinner.  Bombeck had an optimistic and offbeat way of looking at everything and finding humor even in tragic circumstances.  Bombeck was also part of the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women that supported the Equal Rights Act in the 1970s.  As a result of this involvement, many of Bombeck’s books were pulled from shelves of local bookstores.

One of my favorite quotes of hers is the one above.  I hope we can all be reminded that every day is a gift of time to use our talent productively.  I now have a whole new decade to use productively (still can’t believe I’m now a thirty-something!  Egad!).

Have you ever read any of Erma Bombeck’s books?  And do you have any advice for newly minted 30-year-olds?

P.S.  Speaking of using our talent productively, there’s a fantastic/evil app for that, Write or Die.

%d bloggers like this: