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Thursday, April 15, 2021

How to Win Short Story Contests: Insights from A Writing Competition Judge

By Rayne Hall, @RayneHall

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series


JH: Thinking about entering a short story contest? Rayne Hall shares tips on how to improve your chances at winning.

Contests are great for short story writers, because they motivate you to create more stories and to revise them until they sparkle like diamonds. If your story wins, you'll gain recognition, validation that your writing is good, a boost for your credentials. You may also reap a cash prize, and perhaps a certificate, trophy or plaque to display.

So how do you make your story stand out in the eyes of the contest judges?

Of course, you need to write a really good story. All the usual guidelines for story writing apply: character, goal, motivation, conflict, structure, dialogue, hook, satisfying ending and more. Unless you've mastered the craft of short story writing, your chances of success are small, and no insider tricks will help.

But here are several steps you can take to draw the judges' attention to your good story and win their favor.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Why Self-Editing Your Novel Doesn't Really Work

By Dario Ciriello, @Dario_Ciriello 


Part of The Indie Author Series


JH: It takes a sharp eye to edit a novel, and familiarity with the work dulls that eye. Dario Ciriello shares why writers shouldn't rely on only themselves when editing their novel. 

I once found myself reassuring an author on Twitter. The author had shown someone their final novel draft, which they’d gone through countless times, and the reader found a number of mistakes in just the first ten pages.

This isn’t in the least unusual. And although there’s currently a rash of books and blog posts on how to self-edit, the reality is that you’re not — unless you’re already a seasoned pro, and even then — going to catch the majority of issues with your own work. It’s impossible.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Story Structure: How The Wrap Up Works in a Novel

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The wrap up is the final goodbye for the novel, and your last chance to leave readers with a good impression.

There’s a series* I’ve read several times, because the wrap up has such an emotional punch that it pops into my head at least once a year and won’t leave. This is not a mega-bestselling series, and it’s not perfect. And while it’s fun, it also has issues and does plenty of things I could use as examples of what not to do in a novel.

Yet I keep reading it. And not just one book, but five. All to get to that ending.

It’s not the climax that gets me, though that’s exciting. In fact, the ramp up to the climax is also emotion-ladened and always makes me cry. It’s what the characters do in that final scene and why they do it that makes me come back to this series every year or two.

It’s heroic. And uplifting. And sad. And offers a sense that the world is a better, safer place now.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

WIP Diagnostic: Is This Working? A Closer Look at Balancing World Building and Hooks

Critique by Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

WIP Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to WIP Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines. 

Submissions currently in the queue: Two

Please Note: As of today, critique slots are booked through April 24.

This week’s question:

1. Does this opening give enough information to hook the reader? In other words, would you keep reading?

Market/Genre: Science Fantasy

On to the diagnosis…

Thursday, April 08, 2021

3 Powerful Ways Pros Create Character Conflict

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton


Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: Conflict is a lot more than arguing. Laurence MacNaughton shares three ways you can create conflict that matters to the story.

Have you ever written a scene where two characters argue, but it just seems to fall flat? Have you ever felt like a dialogue scene never sizzles, no matter how much conflict you pump into it?

Your story might have a bad case of character bickering. By that I mean that the characters are arguing, maybe insulting one another, but the conflict doesn't really show who they are as people.

Bickering feels bratty and shallow. True character conflict feels much deeper and more gripping.

If you suspect that your characters might be bickering, don't worry. The bad news is that it will take a little bit of digging and brainstorming to fix the problem. The good news is that there is a solution. Three of them, in fact.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

5 Ways to Use Holidays in Your Story

By Bethany Henry

Part of The How They Do It Series


JH: Celebrations can be delightful backdrops for a novel. Bethany Henry shares tips on how to enrich your story with a holiday.


Bethany Henry writes fantasy novels and blogs about writing and wellness at bethany-henry.com. When not writing, she can often be found on the frisbee field, drinking tea, or reading picture books with her two little girls. Sign up for her email list for weekly posts on writing craft- along with fun extras like quotes and freebies.

Website | Blog | Facebook | Pinterest | Email List

Take it away Bethany...

Monday, April 05, 2021

6 Problems Your Query Letter Reveals About Your Novel

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

How much can you really tell about a novel from its query? A lot, actually.

It's the rare writer who actually enjoys writing a query (I'm one of those now, but that wasn't always the case). Say the word query around a group of writers and you'll most likely hear groans. Odds are, someone in that group will ask, "Why do we need to do this? It's not like an agent can tell anything about the book from two paragraphs anyway."

Would it surprise you to hear you can tell a lot about a book from the query letter?

As a writer, I've critiqued more queries and novels than I can count, and I don't even come close to the number agents and editors see every month, if not every week. But I can tell what problems I'm likely to find in a manuscript after reading just the query letter.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

WIP Diagnostic: Is This Working? A Closer Look at Authorial Intrusion and Humor

Critique by Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

WIP Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to WIP Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines. 

Submissions currently in the queue: Three

Please Note: As of today, critique slots are booked through April 24.

This week’s question:

1. I'm hoping authorial intrusion right off the bat will help set a humorous tone. Unfortunately, that delays dialogue till the next page, which may be a bit late. Do you judge the authorial intrusion could allow the delayed introduction of dialogue?

Market/Genre: Adult Action Adventure

On to the diagnosis…

Friday, April 02, 2021

Story Structure: How The Climax Works in a Novel

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The climax resolves the plot problem and makes readers glad they picked up the novel.

There’s a popular series* with a climax that made me so furious I stopped reading that author. Until that moment, I’d devoured all eight books, loved them, and in that last 10% of the final book, the author had the protagonist make a decision that invalidated the entire series and made me go from “Yes, I want you to win!” to “You don’t deserve the victory what the heck were you thinking???”

I was livid. I had to stop reading and call my niece (we were reading the series together) and we hashed out how awful this ridiculous decision was. I gritted my teeth and dived back in to finish it, and then watched in horror as the story I’d loved dissolved into a pointless, deus ex machina ending.

This is not the climax you want for your novel.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

5 Ways to Layer Depth into Your Story

By Jodi Turchin, @jlturchin

Part of The How They Do It Series


JH: Just because you write all the dialogue first doesn't mean you can't craft a layered story. Jodi Turchin shares tips on adding the depth after your first draft is done. 

Jodi Turchin is a Young Adult novelist represented by Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary. She’s also a photographer, a high school English teacher, an adjunct college professor, and a former actress and director.

Website | Twitter

Take it away Jodi…