<![CDATA[Marjorie Reynolds          Welcome To My Website - Blog]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 13:51:37 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[CHILDREN'S LITERATURE]]>Wed, 07 Jun 2017 23:00:06 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/childrens-literaturePicture
Writing a Children’s Book Is No Stroll in The Park!
                           By Ben Jackson

 
You would think it would be easy. You’d be wrong! Prepare yourself for some hard work and long hours!
 
I have worked on children’s books for almost eighteen months now. I started writing non-fiction books, wrote a fiction book, and then switched to children’s books. The only easy thing which I have discovered since switching to children’s books is that they’re a hell of a lot shorter! A lot of this information is also pertinent to any book you write, not just children’s books.
 
Thinking about writing a children’s book? Prepare yourself for some hard work! You start off a children’s book the same as any other. You have a plot, an idea, characters. You need your book to be able to sell itself based off its plot or characters, or you need to write a book aimed at a specific market. Sports, learning, school, friends, pets, animals, holidays or whatever. I have worked with another children’s book author that wrote and published their book and has had to fight every step of the way to gain any market traction. It’s hard to market any book unless it has a market to focus on.
 
Then you start to flesh out the book. Now, you should think about who’s going to be reading your book. Little boys, little girls, older kids, teens, babies, their parents. This is important, if you get this part wrong, you’ll be trying to market a book at the wrong audience, and you will have a written a book which your target audience has no interest in reading. Now you have worked out what you’re doing it’s time to start writing.
 
So, you write the book. Then you read it like a child or parent. Now you get some kids to read it. Now, you chop it up and try to get the length down. It’s hard. Children don’t want to read a novel, but you don’t want to leave them missing vital elements of your story. Then it’s off to the editor, proofreader, illustrator and formatted.
 
When you’re working with an illustrator, you need to help them as much as possible. If you have something in mind, then give them some examples. Send them pictures, examples of scenes, show them where their pictures will fit in with your story and how you perceive the book to look once it’s completed. Work through sketches, to begin with, and then once you are a 100% satisfied move onto final drawings. I always recommend organizing your cover art at this stage and ask for the PSD files of any sketches and final drawings. I used my outlines as images for coloring books which I sell cheap alongside the books or giveaway with the books.
 
Once you have your images, and the story get it all formatted by a professional. My wife does all our formatting, Indie Publishing Group, but she also works full time for a professional book publishing company. When you’re dealing with your formatter be willing to accept advice just like you would from your editor or proofreader. For the most part, they have your books and your best interest at heart. They don’t make any money off your book, but if they do a good job, you’ll come back.
 
Books finished, choose your publishing route. Shop it around to publishers, self-publish or print and sell yourself directly. If you choose self-publishing either prepare yourself for some long hours marketing or pay someone else to do it. Now your book is the same as any other book. You have to sell it, market it, sell it and then market it some more!
 
Good luck!
Ben Jackson
 
The author of The Day My Fart Followed Me to Soccer, The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey and
 If I Was A Caterpillar and several other children’s, non-fiction and fiction books. 

Ben lives in Tasmania, Australia. While working during the week as a Boiler Maker/Welder, specializing in Aluminum Welding, he also writes of a night as a Freelance Writer and Author. Ben is in a Long-Distance Relationship with his wife Sam, who lives in Canada. She works as a full-time formatting professional, publisher, and author. Be sure to check out all his books, there is definitely something there for everyone!

                         Ben Jackson Social Media Links 
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15144197.Ben_Jackson Goodreads Page 
https://www.amazon.com/Ben-Jackson/e/B00S4A4W5C/ Amazon Author Page 
http://bennsam.tumblr.com/ Tumbler 
https://au.pinterest.com/benandsamauthor/ Pinterest 
https://www.facebook.com/BenandSamAuthors/ Facebook Ben & Sam 
https://www.facebook.com/MyLittleFart/ Facebook My Little Fart 
https://twitter.com/AuthorsBen_Sam Twitter 



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<![CDATA[May 17th, 2017]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/may-17th-2017Achieving Flow Through Writing
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Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, Professor and Author
​     If you have ever experienced “flow” while you are writing, consider yourself fortunate. Flow is a state of consciousness that produces a sense of satisfaction and euphoria that every writer hopes for.
     Humans probably discovered it quite early as shown by pictures on cave walls, but psychology professor, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, first identified and popularized the concept in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He calls it “flow” because that’s how people in their studies described it. They said they were “carried on by the flow” or they felt as if they were “floating.”
      The one element all successful creative people have in common is deep concentration on their goals. Time is distorted, external activities disappear and a person effortlessly withdraws into his own consciousness. Flow happens to scientists, athletes, architects, musicians and many others as they strive for excellence. They use all their energy, their focus, their desire toward an endeavor that has nothing to do with achieving fame or becoming rich.
      In fact, studies have shown most of the wealthiest people on Earth say their happiness does not come from money. Rock bands probably had more fun before they became famous than after. Imagine how a tightrope walker feels when he reaches the end of the line.
       I have friends who say they have to write, regardless of success. They feel terrible when they can’t. They don’t know what to do with themselves. In some ways it’s an addiction: writing gives them a high, a release of endorphins. They do it for the pleasure and excitement of it, for the love of it.
     I have experienced flow while writing, and once or twice while swimming, and I can testify to the thrill of it. It’s what an astronomer feels when, after years of work, she discovers a new galaxy. It’s what the basketball player feels when he’s so totally into the game he can’t miss the basket. Jonas Salk must have felt it when he succeeded at creating a vaccine to combat polio. Flow can be shared. The composer of a beautiful piece of music can kindle flow for the listener as well as the artist.
   Czikszentmihalyi believes that, despite the difficulties of life, we’re genetically programmed to experience pleasure. It’s no surprise it has been compared to an orgasm during sex.
      So how can you achieve flow? You can’t just “think” your way into it. On the contrary, self-consciousness must disappear. Occasionally, it happens by chance. I first experienced it when I was in college working on a writing project. Later, when it happened, I was so excited I had to tell someone so I called a friend. Other than downing LSD, you might try establishing challenging goals and devoting your complete attention to them. The purest form of flow for humans is to break through their limitations, whether it’s writing or running a marathon.
      I met Czikszentmihalyi twenty years ago when he gave a speech on flow at the University of Washington. Afterward, I asked him if I’m experiencing flow, does that mean what I’ve written is superior to my usual work? He said, “Not necessarily” but didn’t elaborate. Later, when I thought about his response, I realized flow is a side effect of achieving your personal best, not always a measure against the competition.
     I'm curious to know how many others have reached that state of flow. Has it happened to all of us who write? Is it the reason we write?
 
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<![CDATA[TAKE YOUR NOVEL TO THE NEXT LEVEL:                                                                                                       ADVANCED TECHNIQUES FOR THE FICTION WRITER]]>Mon, 08 May 2017 18:30:08 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/take-your-novel-to-the-next-level-advanced-techniques-for-the-fiction-writer Picture
I am fortunate to have James N. Frey (fondly known as Jim) review my new book on the craft of writing, Take Your Novel to the Next Level.

Jim is the author of the widely read How To Write A Damn Good Novel, How To Write A Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques, The Key: Writing Damn Good Fiction Using The Power of Myth, and How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript. He is an award-winning playwright and the author of nine novels, including The Long Way To Die, which was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America, and Winter Of The Wolves, a Literary Guild Selection.

Here's what he said about my recently released book (available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon):


"Don’t let the subtitle of Take Your Novel to the Next Level: Advanced Techniques for the Fiction Writer lead you astray. This book is not just for advanced writers. It’s for all fiction writers, from dewy-eyed beginners to crotchety old masters. It’s clear, insightful, and full of wonderful object lessons from Marjorie’s personal experience. The learning curve for mastering the craft of fiction writing is long and steep. The principles detailed in this book will help flatten the curve and spare you many battle scars. This book is far more than a manual on the craft. It’s a guide to living the writer’s life and living it well.
                                                                                                 —James N. Frey

Thanks, Jim.

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<![CDATA[Pre-order REDEMPTION LAKE]]>Fri, 24 Mar 2017 19:03:00 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/pre-order-redemption-lake]]><![CDATA[A BIT OF WISDOM]]>Tue, 14 Mar 2017 17:08:56 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/a-bit-of-wisdomPicture Author George Saunders
             
​                    
AN AUTHOR'S RELATIONSHIP
WITH  HIS CHARACTERS AND READERS

I came across a humorous/serious essay about the writing process from author George Saunders, and I want to share a portion of it with you. He tells us he didn't want "to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt." He goes on to say "My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt, and now I find myself in the familiar writerly fix of trying to talk about that process as if I were in control of it." 

​If you would like to read more of the essay, you can find it at: 
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/04/what-writers-really-do-when they-write

         
​         
WHAT WRITERS REALLY DO WHEN THEY WRITE
                                                                 BY GEORGE SAUNDERS
                                                     
What does an artist do, mostly? She tweaks that which she’s already done. There are those moments when we sit before a blank page, but mostly we’re adjusting that which is already there. The writer revises, the painter touches up, the director edits, the musician overdubs.

I write, “Jane came into the room and sat down on the blue couch,” read that, wince, cross out “came into the room” and “down” and “blue” (Why does she have to come into the room? Can someone sit UP on a couch? Why do we care if it’s blue?) and the sentence becomes “Jane sat on the couch – ” and suddenly, it’s better (Hemingwayesque, even!), although … why is it meaningful for Jane to sit on a couch? Do we really need that? And soon we have arrived, simply, at “Jane," which at least doesn’t suck, and has the virtue of brevity.

But why did I make those changes? On what basis?        

On the basis that, if it’s better this new way for me, over here, now, it will be better for you, later, over there, when you read it. When I pull on this rope here, you lurch forward over there.

This is a hopeful notion, because it implies that our minds are built on common architecture – that whatever is present in me might also be present in you. “I” might be a 19th-century Russian count, “you” a part-time Walmart clerk in 2017, in Boise, Idaho, but when you start crying at the end of my (Tolstoy’s) story “Master and Man," you have proved that we have something in common, communicable across language and miles and time, and despite the fact that one of us is dead.

Another reason you’re crying: you’ve just realised that Tolstoy thought well of you – he believed that his own notions about life here on earth would be discernible to you, and would move you.

​Tolstoy imagined you generously, you rose to the occasion.    
 
The empathetic function in fiction is accomplished via the writer’s relation both to his characters and to his readers.
 
We often think that the empathetic function in fiction is accomplished via the writer’s relation to his characters, but it’s also accomplished via the writer’s relation to his reader. You make a rarefied place (rarefied in language, in form; perfected in many inarticulable beauties – the way two scenes abut; a certain formal device that self-escalates; the perfect place at which a chapter cuts off); and then welcome the reader in. She can’t believe that you believe in her that much; that you are so confident that the subtle nuances of the place will speak to her; she is flattered. And they do speak to her.

​This mode of revision, then, is ultimately about imagining that your reader is as humane, bright, witty, experienced and well intentioned as you, and that, to communicate intimately with her, you have to maintain the state, through revision, of generously imagining her. You revise your reader up, in your imagination, with every pass. You keep saying to yourself: “No, she’s smarter than that. Don’t dishonour her with that lazy prose or that easy notion.”


And in revising your reader up, you revise yourself up too.

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<![CDATA[BUILDING AN AUDIENCE]]>Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:27:52 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/building-an-audienceTIPS TO HELP YOU BOOST READERSHIP
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   A FEW WEEKS AGO, AUTHOR SUSAN CLAYTON-GOLDNER WROTE ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE LAUNCHING HER NOVEl. SHE HAS LEARNED A GREAT DEAL ABOUT MARKETING AND IS WILLING TO SHARE INFORMATION ABOUT THE PROCESS AND HER SUCCESS.
             HERE IS SUSAN'S STORY:



      I'm 5 days into launch week for my novel, A Bend In The Willow. It has been a time of excitement, anxiety, awe and of humbleness for me. At last one of my big dreams is coming true. I spent a lot of years saying I wrote because I loved to write. That publication wasn't important to me. But I was only fooling myself.  Most of us write because we want to be heard. Without readers, we remain mute. 

    As of this hour, the novel has 47 reviews on Amazon and 60 on Goodreads. They average about 4.5 stars. A Bend In The Willow is rated #1,462 in all Amazon Kindle books, #31 in Saga, #33 in Family Saga, and #48 in Women's Fiction Saga.  

    And this morning, as if I needed anything else to dance about, I learned it was selected as one of Amazon's Hot New Releases--rated #4. It has already dropped to #5 (the stats change hourly) but still, I was thrilled beyond measure.  The rainbow in the photo above was taken a few minutes ago from my front porch. It seemed somehow appropriate on this banner day.  
     A friend suggested I talk about the process of getting to this place--that it might be of interest to other writers.  This is what I've learned:

1. Write the very best book you can possibly write. Don't think you're finished because you've come to the end. Edit. Rewrite. Edit and rewrite some more until you've done all you can.

2. If you are self publishing, hire a good editor. Take her suggestions unless you have a very good reason not to. 


3.  Get someone who is good with grammar to proofread the book. 

4. Have a great cover design. I was very fortunate that Tirgearr assigned me an editor, had the book proofread and designed a fantastic cover. If you are self-publishing, you need to take the same steps.  

5. About six weeks before the book is to launch, start soliciting reviews. Some publishers will do this for you. Most will not. I went through Amazon's Top 10,000 reviewers and pulled out the ones who reviewed books similar to mine and who'd left an e-mail. There are websites you can join that will do the scanning for you and provide you with a list of e-mail addresses.  

6. I wrote query letters to each one--giving them a brief summary of the book along with the cover art. I was polite. I told them how much it would mean to me if they'd review the book. But even if they didn't want to, I appreciated the time they'd taken to read the query. 

7. When I heard back, I sent their requested format. Since Tirgearr publishes first in e-book, I had mobi (for Kindle) e-pub (for Nook and other e-readers) and PDF.  Be polite. They are doing you a favor. I sent out twice as many ARC's (advanced reader copies) than I have, so far, received reviews--but 50% is a good turnout. 

8. When they wrote back with their reviews, I thanked them profusely and asked them to post the review on Goodreads (they allow reviews on books that have not yet been launched)  On launch day, I already had 35 or so reviews on Goodreads. I also asked if they would like to be on my list of reviewers for my next book, Redemption Lake, which will launch in May. All of them said, "yes."  This is important because it will decrease your work load when your second novel is released. 

9. The morning of book launch, I sent an e-mail to everyone who'd requested the book, reminding them that they could post their reviews on Amazon. I told them not to worry if they hadn't read the book yet, I'd greatly appreciate their review whenever they had time to do it.  Again, be nice. 


10. About a month before launch, I set up promotions for that week. Places like: Book Lovers Heaven, Book Goodies, My Book Place, Ebook Soda, Read Cheaply.  EReader News Today (ENT) is one of the better sights but requires reviews. As soon as I had some reviews in place, I contacted them.  According to my publisher, 162 ENT readers bought the book. Well worth the investment of $50.00

11. You might want to start out with a low price. Tirgearr started A Bend In The Willow at .99. The price goes up to $4.99 tomorrow.  Readers are more likely to take a chance on a new writer with a low price. And for the first book, you want to get your name out there. You may not make a lot of money, but you are getting name recognition and fans who will want to read your next book.  

12. Don't be afraid to ask other writers who have been through this process (either self publishing or with a small press) for help. I would have been lost without my very generous writer friends. Most writers like to help and share what they've learned. 

    I hope you found this advice helpful. I'm flying by the seat of my pants a lot of the time, too. It's a learning curve. 

    Watch for your rainbow. But be willing to work to make it happen.  







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<![CDATA[AUTHOR OF A BEND IN THE WILLOW]]>Sun, 08 Jan 2017 17:09:22 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/author-of-a-bend-in-the-willow

MEET SUSAN CLAYTON-GOLDNER

I am fortunate to know a talented novelist and poet, Susan Clayton-Goldner, whose new book, A  Bend  In  The  Willow,  will  be  released  on January 18.  You  can  pre-order  it on  Amazon,     
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N0HL432
or at http://tirgearrpublishing.com for $.99 until January 25 when the price will go up to $4.99. Susan’s previous novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest. She won the National Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. Wellstone Press released a collection of her poems, A Question of Mortality, in 2014. Susan and her husband, Andreas Goldner, live in Grants Pass, Oregon.

​Welcome, Susan. How does it feel to have a new novel coming out?

Susan:
It's been an interesting and exciting process from the letter I got from Tirgearr Publishing last July saying they wanted to send me a contract up until all the edits were made, the proofreading done, and the cover designed. I have also signed a contract with Tirgearr Publishing for another novel, Redemption Lake.

Marjorie:
What is A Bend In The Willow about?

Susan:
It takes place in Willowood, Kentucky in 1965. Robin Lee Carter sets a fire that kills her rapist, then disappears. She reinvents herself and is living a respectable life as Catherine Henry, married to a medical school dean in Tucson, Arizona. In 1985, when their five-year-old son, Michael, is diagnosed with a chemotherapy-resistant leukemia, Catherine must return to Willowood, face her family, and the product of rape, her nineteen-year-old son  she gave up for adoption. She knows her return will lead to a murder charge, but Michael needs a bone marrow transplant. Will she find forgiveness, and is she willing to lose everything, including her life, to save her dying son?

Marjorie:
Sounds like a fascinating concept. What inspired you to choose that story?

Susan: 
Almost all my stories start out with a question. What would happen if a teenaged girl killed her abusive father, disappeared and reinvented herself? One question builds upon another until the story emerges. It seems I most often write about themes of forgiveness and redemption. How a character finds her way back to herself. 

Marjorie:
Have you received any reviews yet? 

​Susan: 
I'm in the process of getting reviews. I have to admit I was terrified when I sent out requests to Amazon's Top Reviewers. Would they hate it? Would they say terrible things about my book? When the first five-star review came back only two days after I sent the Advanced Reader Copy, I cried. I hate to admit it, but I did. I shared the review with some of my best writing friends, confessed my meltdown and asked the question, "Why does it mean so much?" My friend, Lloyd Meeker, a wonderful writer himself, sent the following e-mail and I think he nailed exactly why it means so much to us writers. This is what he said. "This is wonderful, Susan! It's incredible when someone really ‘gets’ what we write—not just the technique, structure, pacing, dialogue, etc., but the actual story. Why does it mean so much? Because an understanding stranger really ‘saw’ your creation, and therefore saw something of your truth, too. The anthropologist Eliade declared that the two strongest desires in human experience are to know another and to be known. When someone ‘gets’ something I've written, I feel known at some deep psychic level, and it is an indescribably rich, nourishing experience for me."

Marjorie:
That’s an inspiring message. When did you decide to become a writer?

Susan:
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. Let’s face it, writing is isolating and doesn’t pay very well. I’m not sure many people would choose to write if they could avoid it or were of sane mind. When I was a little girl, my father won a Smith Corona portable typewriter in a poker game. He gave it to me. It came with 45 rpm records guaranteed to have you typing. It was the beginning of my life as a writer. I taught myself how to type with the help of those records and started writing poems and stories.

​Marjorie:
How would you describe your writing style?

Susan:
Somewhere between commercial and literary. My creative writing focus in college was on poetry, so my style tends to incorporate metaphor and simile. I make use of some poetic devices while trying to keep moving the story forward. I realize most readers are more interested in the story than in beautiful writing—so I strive to find balance.

Marjorie:
You said a writer who chooses this career might not be “of sane mind.” How were you able to handle the inevitable rejections that come with this business?

Susan:
My father and his struggles have influenced my writing more than any other person. A grenade blew up in his hand during WWII. It was before the birth of four of his five children, but in many ways that bomb blew up in our lives as well. He was in and out of VA hospitals for years and suffered from what would now be called PTSD. He was often difficult, but had more tenacity than anyone I’ve ever met. Tenacity is a wonderful gift for a writer. My father never gave up. He was a carpenter by trade and the grenade blew off most of his right hand. It broke nearly every bone in his right leg. He was told he’d never walk again. But he did with the help of a brace. And he became a pretty good one-handed carpenter, as well. If he could overcome all of that, I could survive the rejections that come from being a writer.

Marjorie:
Writing is a solitary career. Do you have connections with other writers?

Susan:
I belong to a group of writers who have supported me for the last twenty years. Many of them are very accomplished. We meet once a month for two days and critique each other’s work. We celebrate whenever anything good happens for one of our members. We encourage and console after rejections. They are the best support group a writer could imagine. My mentor, James N. Frey (author of How To Write A Damn Good Novel), has also been an enormous influence in my life. I knew how to weave words when I first attended Jim’s workshop, but he taught me how to tell a good story.

Marjorie:
What advice do you have for writers who hope to be published someday?

Susan:
My advice is to stick with it. Tenacity pays off. I received over one hundred rejections letters before I finally got a New York agent. I thought my trials and tribulations were over. She loved the book and was very vocal in her praise. But a few months later, she accepted a salaried job with another agency and let go of her clients who weren’t yet making money for her. I can’t blame her, but it was a huge blow. This was the first time I ever considered quitting, but I couldn’t. I have to write. I was born to write. And if you were, too, don’t let anything or anyone stop you.

Marjorie:
Good advice. Thank you, Susan. Best of luck with A Bend In The Willow.
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<![CDATA[November 25th, 2016]]>Fri, 25 Nov 2016 19:46:52 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/november-25th-2016 Picture
       ​WHAT IS 
    LEE CHILD'S
​       SECRET?

   As the author of twenty internation-ally best-selling novels, Lee Child must be doing something right.
 The New York Times calls his books “utterly addictive.” Rick Geko-ski of England’s The Guardian calls Child’s protagonist, Jack Reacher, “a one-man wrecking crew, hurling bad guys into the darkness with breathtaking efficiency.”
   I won’t go into whether Jack Reacher is Child’s alter ego. Let’s just say Jack is the man most men want to be and the man most women would like to crawl into bed with.
   So how does Lee Child do it? What makes his novels so popular? Let’s look at it from a fiction writer’s point of view.
    His protagonist is an extreme character.
   What does that mean? He is extraordinary and does things ordinary people like us wouldn’t have the passion or courage to do.
    To say Jack Reacher is different is an understatement. He has no middle name and no home address. He lives mostly in shabby motels. He travels light—no luggage, no backpack. However, he does keep a toothbrush in his pocket. He doesn’t own or drive a car because he “failed defensive driving,” but he gets where he wants by hitchhiking or traveling by train or bus.

   He’s six foot five and weighs about 250 pounds, and he knows how to throw his weight around.
   He’s also implacable. In one passage, the bad guys are blocking the road. When the lovely woman driving the car asks Reacher what she should do, he says, “Drive straight at them.”
     “And crash?” she says.
     “That’s always an option.”
    He doesn’t have an itinerary. In Make Me, he stops at a small town called Mother’s Rest. Why? Because, “He had no place to go, and all the time in the world to get there, so detours cost him nothing.”
    When a female ex-FBI agent asks if he’s in town to work, he says, ”I’m not here to work. And I’m on nobody’s side. I’m just a passerby.”
    When his clothes get grungy, he goes to the local hardware store and buys a shirt and a sturdy pair of pants. He tosses his previous wardrobe in the trash. He has a “default breakfast”—“pancakes, eggs, and bacon, but most of all coffee, first and always.”
   He didn’t carry any identification until after 9/11 when he needed a passport. He has no apparent source of income, and yet when he needs money, he simply acquires it by eliminating a drug lord or a similar villain and confiscating thousands in cash.
    Reacher doesn’t carry a gun but, when necessary, manages to find one and blow his enemies into very tiny bits. At one point, Child writes that Reacher looks at a guy “with the glassy stare of a psychopath.” He has killed more than 200 people, mostly without remorse. But in Make Me, he does have a moment of hesitation.
   "Some small part of Reacher’s mind didn’t want to shoot at the one-eyed guy. He’s a poor old handicapped man.
   But the guy was pointing a weapon at Reacher’s current lover so, of course, he had to kill him.
  Reacher has casual sex but he’s selective, attentive and careful. Not exactly a good candidate for a husband or a father, though.
     He’s not in prison, but the FBI is looking for him.
     Okay, but that’s just his bad side.
 Jack Reacher is an anti-hero, and a characteristic of an anti-hero is he has a good side, usually a very good side.
  In this case, our anti-hero is smart, sexy, cerebral, introspective and moral—in a way. He isn’t your stereotypical alcoholic, wounded man trying to heal himself. He doesn’t have a recently murdered wife or a disastrous love affair.
    As one reviewer said, “Just tell the damn story! Some of us read mysteries for the mystery, not to learn yet more about Harry Bosch's tortured internal life. There are actually people who are ok with themselves and just do whatever they do well and don't spend a lot of their (and our) time navel gazing.”
     As Kevin Nance wrote in The Washington Post, Reacher has “absolute clarity about the world and his place in it.”
   Reacher is a graduate of West Point and served in the military long enough to acquire two Silver Stars, the ​Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Soldier’s Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
     He’s skilled in physics, geometry and psychology, so when he needs to take down a bad guy, he first works out the logistics of space and time in his head and moves into action like a human evil-seeking missile.
     Here’s Reacher’s analysis of a gunfight:
   “’If Knox is right-handed, then he was shooting diagonally across his body. He would want reasonable arm extension. The muzzle was probably out the window, just a little. The ejection port on a Glock is on the right side of the gun. So he had to be very careful with his position. He had to keep the ejection port inside the car. Kind of cramped. No opportunity to aim down the barrel. Yet he hit the guy right between the eyes. Not easy. Is Knox that good a shot?”
     ‘I don’t know.’
     ‘You should try to find out.’”
     Here’s another example:
  “Reacher’s gun tracked his move. Rear sight, front sight, target.
   Reacher fired. Single shot. Range, eighty feet. Nine-millimeter Parabellum, 124 grains, full metal jacket. Muzzle velocity, more than eight hundred miles an hour. Time to target, less than a fifteenth of a second. Virtually instantaneous. The round hit the guy high on the back, dead center, at the base of the neck. A spine shot.”
    Reacher’s natural intelligence, his physical mass, military training, curiosity and analytical abilities are his major strengths. Without them, he’d be a one-dimensional character, just another hulk.
   Child’s books are heavy on dialogue. Short, staccato sentences and fragments with little need for modifiers. Reacher is a minimalist when it comes to talking, and, yet, we learn more about him from his dialogue than from inner thoughts.

   He isn’t vindictive and he never kills innocent people. He does only what needs to be done.
His dialogue is simple, underlaid with dry humor and subtext.
      “A click. A purr. The voice. It said, ‘Where the hell are you?’
      Reacher said, ‘What? Now you’re my mother?’
      ‘I’ve been trying to get hold of you.’
​     ‘I’m out at the Air Force place. Trying to get in. Looking for the key. I need to know the top twenty ingenious places you’ve ever found a small hidden object.’
  ‘VCR slot, kettle, shoe, inside a TV set, the battery compartment of a transistor radio, a hollowed-out book, cut into the foam inside the seat of a car, in a bar of soap, in a tub of cream cheese.’
    ‘That’s only nine. You’re hopeless.’” As usual, there’s a smile underneath Reacher’s words.
    So what is Lee Child’s secret? What makes people wait for his next novel?
  Jack Reacher is a engaging extreme character. He’s completely unique and lives a life many of us are attracted to. Who doesn’t occasionally want to walk away from a burdensome, boring daily existence and be completely independent? Okay, so he breaks the law but only when necessary and only to right wrongs. He’s clever and he is continually calculating how to get out of dangerous situations.
     Child’s books have lots of tension, suspense, a little romance and explosive endings. What more could you want?
 

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<![CDATA[DOES YOUR CHARACTER HAVE AN ARC?]]>Sun, 06 Nov 2016 00:02:31 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/does-your-character-have-an-arcPicture

             LEARNING LIFE'S
       GREAT LESSONS


​     A novel is organized life.
In both reality and fiction, we’re on a journey filled with highs, lows, good choices, bad choices, safe passages and roadblocks. We’re not the same at the end as we were at the beginning. Our experiences transform us. No one goes through life and stays the same—nor should the characters in your novel.
      In fiction, that transformation is known as the character arc, and if you want to write a meaningful book, one that rises to the level of literature, your protagonist must have one.
       As Robert McKee states in his book on the writing craft, Story, the real meaning of a story is to learn “life’s great lessons.”
      Life is chaotic but a novelist plucks segments from it and organizes events into a plot that makes a point.  She chooses events that challenge and change the protagonist. She gives him a problem or a goal that isn’t easy to solve or achieve, and then she puts pressure on him.
    Why? Because it is through struggle that a person, whether real or invented, reveals his true nature.
       So, how do you go about developing those difficulties for your story people?
1.  You create a sympathetic character. If we don’t care about your protagonist, we won’t care whether or not she gets what she wants. If she isn’t sympathetic, she should at least be someone we want to know more about.
2.  Next, you put her in trouble—not just a misfortune or two—but horrible, inescapable trouble she can’t easily walk away from.  The worst trouble, of course, is death, especially of a loved one. That’s why so many stories put the protagonist’s child or significant other in peril. We watch with anxiety and tension until the situation is resolved and then with relief when our favorite characters are safe.
3.     Consider putting your character into a crucible, a place or situation that has no apparent escape. It can be physical entrapment or it can be circumstances in which the character has a strong emotional or moral investment, such as the relationship between parent and child.
      Books and movies often make use of crucibles. Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s World War II novel, Das Boot, is the story of the crew in a German submarine that goes deeper and deeper to avoid the enemy, to the point where water pressure is crushing the hull. The boat sustains heavy damage and the weary sailors barely survive. The disabled vessel is a metaphor for a crucible, a container subjected to increasing heat, sizzling with tension, dread and hopelessness. A place that seems to have no escape. As you plot your story, consider how you might put your protagonist in a similar place or situation.
       In Sophie’s Choice, a young mother is consigned to two excruciating crucibles: a horrific World War II death camp and an unbearable moral dilemma. Sophie recounts the night she arrived at Auschwitz with her young daughter and son. A Nazi officer tells her she may keep only one child. The other must die in the gas chamber. When Sophie begs him for the lives of her children, he starts to take both of them away to their death. In a sobbing frenzy, Sophie chooses her son to stay with her and spends the rest of her life suffering from guilt and despair.
       The conflict and emotion are woven into the story. Styron never tells the reader how to feel. He doesn’t need to.
4.   Your protagonist must struggle, often to the point of death. The hero must struggle so hard and be so beaten down that the reader believes he won’t make it. The death doesn’t have to be literal. It can be the loss of a dream, a relationship, a contest, even a boxing match—anything that’s so important the hero is willing to risk his life for it.    
      It is the crisis in the story that provides the most tension. He fights for what he wants. He faces failure head on. He may be beaten down, physically and mentally, and believe all is lost. But then he calls upon strengths he didn’t know he had to get what he wants, and through that process he emerges as a different person. It’s important the character has strong motivation for his choices and his transformation is gradual. A sudden change of character will feel contrived and haphazard.
     The event mirrors real life, as exemplified by Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous phrase, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." If the hero has struggled enough, he will survive and be reborn and permanently changed. Your novel is more compelling if characters other than the protagonist also have an arc, but the protagonist should have the most significant one of all.
       In some genres, particularly mystery and high action series, the protagonist has a character arc in his personal life but not in his public life. Lucas Davenport in John Stanford’s Prey novels marries and has children but remains the steely maverick detective throughout the series. Jack Reacher in Lee Child’s novels is the same restless drifter at the end that he was at the beginning.
      James Bond doesn’t change much in Ian Fleming’s novels. Readers expect him to be the same clever, urbane British intelligence agent and playboy in the twelfth book as he was in the first. Ironically, each of the eight actors who play him in the movies gives his own spin to the character. Viewers are not looking for a character arc. They jam the theaters to see what new cars, gadgets, girlfriends and explosions Bond will come up with.
      In some novels, the protagonist grows by recognizing and overcoming his flaws. Perhaps he’s ignored them for years. Maybe he drinks too much. Maybe he and his parents are estranged and he’s too stubborn to heal the relationship. As the story progresses, he doesn’t completely change but he resolves his own problems, allowing him to become stronger and more effective in achieving his external goals.
      Even if the protagonist recognizes his weaknesses but still refuses to change, we expect him to have learned one of “life’s great lessons” or some universal truth. In Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove, Captain Woodrow McCall, a proud, stubborn and unyielding former Texas Ranger, promises his dying friend Gus that he will take him back to Texas to bury him. The novel’s main theme is mortality. Several men die during the cattle drive to Montana but their comrades accept it and push on, trying to find meaning in a life filled with death. Captain McCall values duty over love and he suffers for it.
     Near the end of the novel, McCall realizes his mistakes have robbed him of happiness, but he’s too rigid to change. Although McCall knows that one of the young men on the cattle drive is his son, he won’t acknowledge him publicly. McCall wants to speak to the boy about their relationship but at the mere thought, “a tightness came into his throat, as if a hand had seized it. Anyway, what could a few words change? They couldn’t change the years.”
      He gives his son his horse, his gun and his father’s watch but he can’t—or won’t—give him his name. We admire Captain McCall for his accomplishments but pity him for his choices. Although he saves the lives of several people, he can’t manage to save his own.
     At the end of the novel, McCall realizes he has lost everything—his son, his closest friends, his meaning in life and the town of Lonesome Dove itself. Nothing is left for him there.
      Most novels have a less tragic ending. Usually, the protagonist gets what he wants or, even more importantly, what he needs. Sometimes he moves from one end of the spectrum to the other. The change may be positive or negative, but in fiction as in real life, a journey of any significance is transformative.
     A classic story of complete transformation is Charles Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol. In the beginning, Ebenezer Scrooge is despicable. In typical over-the-top Dickensian fashion, the author tells us, "The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice...”
       Scrooge exploits the poor, hoards his money and cares only about himself. On Christmas Eve, four ghosts take him through a retrospective of his life and its possible future. Scrooge learns he will die alone, despondent and remorseful if he doesn’t change his selfish, miserly ways. This epiphany totally transforms Scrooge into a kinder, more generous man.
    The character arc is the heart of a novel. The real significance lies in the protagonist’s self-discovery—that moment when his emotions break through the surface and he must face the truth—and hopefully make life changes based on his new knowledge.
       If you are nearing the end and you don’t see your protagonist evolve or at least face his flaws, look at the events in your story. 
*      Is serious trouble for your protagonist embedded in the story concept?
*      Do you give your characters significant moral dilemmas?
*      Do you put enough pressure on them so they'll reveal their true natures?
*      Are they strong enough to survive the physical and emotional tests that you (the author) will put them through?
*   At the end of the story, will they be reborn because of their struggles? ​             ​
Readers worry about characters they like and are fascinated by characters who must fight to achieve something important. They admire heroic and noble acts. They respect the underdog who triumphs over seemingly impossible odds. A skilled fiction writer knows that a novel without conflict, emotion, a crisis that tests the protagonist and a satisfying character arc is a blank page.

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<![CDATA[Rewriting and Editing]]>Fri, 28 Oct 2016 17:59:42 GMThttp://marjoriereynoldswriter.com/blog/rewriting-and-editingPicture
  ONWARD AND UPWARD      
    ​ 
     You have finished your first draft. Congratulations. That’s a significant accomplishment. More manuscripts are abandoned than actually finished. 
     Most first drafts are wordy—and that’s okay, because your goal in the beginning is simply to turn a story into sentences on a page. But when you rewrite and edit that final draft, each word must prove its worth.
     The problem with verbosity, vague word choice and generalizations is they distance the reader from your characters. The closer your reader gets to your character, the more likely she is to connect emotionally, and emotional connection is what a novel is all about.
     
You want your reader to feel what the character feels. Your goal should be to close the “aesthetic distance,” that space between the reader’s conscious reality and the illusory world. If the reader is so emotionally engaged with the novel that he’s unaware of the outside world, a clumsy or confusing sentence (the sort you have to read several times to understand the meaning) can jolt the reader right out of the fictional dimension.
     Occasionally, a novel, movie or television program will intentionally violate the aesthetic distance by speaking directly to the reader. Kevin Spacey’s character often does that in the television program, “House of Cards.” William Goldman repeatedly interrupts his story and speaks to the reader in his meta-fictional novel, The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.
     Another way to close the aesthetic space is by eliminating “filtering” words, as Janet Burroway calls them in her book, Writing Fiction. Phrases such as “I thought,” “I heard,” “I saw,” and “I felt” are examples of filtering words. I call them “distancing words” because the narrator experiences the event rather than the reader. They also slow the pace. Most of the time, you can delete these words and let the rest of the sentence stand or make it more active.
     Look at the difference:
     I heard his head hit the floor with a thud.
     His head hit the floor with a thud.
     The first sentence conveys the information through the narrator. The second sentence puts the reader into the scene so she can hear the sound.
     Ms. Burroway says it’s “a common fault and often difficult to recognize—although once the principle is grasped, cutting away filters is an easy means to more vivid writing. As a fiction writer you will often be working through ‘some observing consciousness.’ Yet when you step back and ask readers to observe the observer — to look at rather than through the character — you start to tell, not show and rip us briefly out of the scene.”
     As you work on your second draft, make sure your plot is solid. I use a list of 26 questions, all of them concerning basic storytelling elements. If I have to answer no to any one of them, I rewrite that section.
     Here are my questions with brief comments. Use this guide to make sure your manuscript is the best you can create.

1.     Is your story fresh and original? Is it a tale about a cigar-chomping, alcoholic, misogynistic cop who calls women “dames”? I’m sorry but that’s been done—a lot. Try turning that stereotype on its head. Make the sheriff a quiet, intelligent, pregnant woman whose husband is an artist. Or take a story that’s been done many times and change the setting, the historical era and the characters. It worked for Jane Smiley, whose novel, A Thousand Acres, based on William Shakespeare's King Lear won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. What’s unique about your novel? Are there places you could make your plot or your characters more unusual?
2.  Do you open your novel with a strong hook? Do you start out with the protagonist’s predicament? Does your plot have a significant story question on the first or second page? Will your beginning grab the reader?
3.    Does your plot organize your story effectively? What is your inciting incident? The inciting incident is an event that seriously disrupts your protagonist’s life.
Does your protagonist want something, have opposing forces and expect a serious loss if she doesn’t reach her goal? Is the goal clear to the reader? If you’re having trouble organizing your plot, consider using the classic Hero’s Journey narrative as a guide. (http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero's_journey.htm)
4.    Does your novel have conflict? What or who provides it? Your story must have opposing forces: a protagonist who wants something and an antagonist who wants to stop the protagonist from achieving his goal. The antagonist does not have to be evil but he should be a complex character who has clear motivation for his behavior.
5.    Does your story have high stakes? A high-stakes situation has important consequences for the protagonist and the antagonist(s). If the character fails in reaching the goal, her life cannot return to the way it was. She will have lost something significant. Danger to someone’s life would be considered the highest stakes.
6.    Does your protagonist take direct action as soon as possible, preferably within the first five pages? It’s okay if your protagonist resists getting involved at first, but when she does, she must drive the action throughout the novel. If she’s passive or weak, the reader will lose interest.
7.    Are your characters complex (not necessarily likable but fascinating)? If you’ve watched the TV series, “House of Cards,” you’ll be familiar with the corrupt protagonist and his equally corrupt wife. They’re neither ethical nor pleasant but they’re certainly captivating. For your characters to be complex, they should have good traits as well as flaws.
8.     Does your protagonist have some sort of special gift or ability?  
We admire people who are exceptional, especially when they use their talents in a heroic way. That’s why comic book heroes (Examples: Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Captain Marvel) are so popular. They have talents that save the world.
9.     Is your protagonist (and preferably some of your other characters, too) extraordinary? Your protagonist may start out as ordinary, but she quickly should do things ordinary people won’t do. Readers are fascinated with characters that have extreme qualities because they take on seemingly unattainable quests.
       Examples: Katniss Everdeen, the young, resourceful heroine from The Hunger Games; Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire in Twilight; the eleven-year-old wizard in Harry Potter, the abused Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the brave Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings and the quintessential noble attorney Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Everyone loves an underdog.
10.    Will readers connect emotionally with your protagonist?
A novel is all about emotion, but the author can’t manipulate the reader into feeling something unless the emotion is intrinsic in the story. For example, if the story is about a dying man, a character we have grown to like, you won’t have to tell us how he and the other characters feel. Simply describing the events and the characters’ behavior and dialogue will show us. Avoid maudlin emotion.
11.     Do you show rather than tell and tell rather than show when it’s appropriate? You can’t show every real-life minute in a novel. It would have a gazillion pages. You show major events in the story and tell unimportant information.
12.     What is your novel’s central dramatic question? The CDQ is that question that the reader wants answered. It might be: Will the protagonist be able to fix the spacecraft’s computer failure and land safely? Will the protagonist catch the killer? Will the protagonist win the race? It’s that question that hooks the reader in the beginning and must be answered for a satisfying ending.
13.     Do you stick to your central dramatic question? Eliminate rambling, purposeless tangents and use subplots only when they strengthen and forward the main plot? 
14.    What are your novel’s theme and premise? The theme is the subject of the novel. The premise is the author’s position on that subject. Suppose the theme is racism. The author’s position would likely be racism should not be tolerated.
15.    Are your characters’ motivations clear? It’s true that real life people often seem to act randomly, but characters in a novel should have a clear reason for behaving the way they do.
​16.    Do you use color and the five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch and smell) to bring a scene to life and make the reader feel as though she has stepped into the story. If you’re worried that description will slow down the novel’s pace, put the characters in action. The reader will remember the description better than if the characters are static. Sensory details are almost as important as emotion and conflict in a novel.
17.    Do you use figurative language (with caution) to enhance your prose? Metaphors, similes, symbols, literary motifs or similar narrative devices add depth and richness to your scenes and often help the reader visualize an abstraction.
18.       Do your characters behave like real people?
Are they stereotypical, bland, boring, melodramatic? Believable? Do they have flaws as well as good attributes? Do their actions seem predictable? If so, consider adding a twist to your plot.
19.    Do all your scenes advance the story? If you can remove a scene without losing anything significant, delete it. Or if it has only a small amount of important information, put that into another scene.
20.    Does your dialogue sound believable and further the story?
Some writers have difficulty with dialogue. It is not conversation. It should indirectly communicate the speaker’s underlying thoughts and emotions. It should feel natural, reveal character and advance the plot. Study dialogue from various authors to see how it’s done well.
21.     Do you create tension by:
     a.    Foreshadowing?
     b.    Cutting out the boring parts?
     c.    Making the conflict and the stakes high enough to support an entire book?     Putting your protagonist (or someone she loves) in danger or trouble and then making the situation worse? Having the scenes move toward a climax in which the protagonist either gets what she wants or doesn’t?
      d.    Using subtext to convey inner conflict, enhance dialogue and deepen emotion?​
       e.     Maintaining an appropriate pace?
22.   Does your protagonist have a character arc? Your protagonist is on an important journey that will change her life. She should be a different person at the end of that journey than she was at the beginning. The experience will reshape her, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
23.    Eliminate filtering words. Use narrative techniques that close the aesthetic distance in your manuscript? Avoid “that” unless it makes the sentence clumsy without it. For example, instead of “How did you know that I like yellow roses?” use “How did you know I like yellow roses?” You can use a global search to find the unnecessary “thats” in your manuscript.
24.    Avoid vague words (“nice,” “beautiful,” “good”). Show us what makes something nice, beautiful or good. Avoid “–ing” words. For example, use “He sat…” instead of “He was sitting…” Be specific. Use a Dodge Ram rather than a truck, a red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap rather than a hat. Use words that evoke sensory feelings. Let the protagonist smell the smoke from the fire, hear the sirens and taste the ash in the air. Make the house green so the reader can visualize it. Avoid repetition and redundancy not only in words but also in ideas.    
25.    Do you give your characters the ending they deserve?
  A novel is about struggle. As the writer, you should put pressure on your protagonist until it seems he may not survive. If your protagonist has done the very best he can, he deserves to achieve his goal. If he fails, he may still acquire wisdom, which often is more important than what he originally wanted.
26.    Is the manuscript clean, clear and well written?  Your novel should be in the best condition possible. Poor spelling, odd formatting and lack of clarity are the signs of an amateur. One way to check your own work is to read it aloud. You may be surprised at the number of awkward sentences, typos and other problems you’ll find. 

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