Category Archives: research

Reblog: Media Training with Sally G. Cronin


From Lillian: Sally G. Cronin is a wonderful writer and a role model for all of us who want to be successful in the Digital Age. Thank you, Sally, for sharing your expertise!

 

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via Smorgasbord Media Training for Authors FREE Pdf

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The Three Ways to Tell A Story


by Lillian Csernica on January 29, 2018

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Lots of people are writing these days. Lots of people have stories to tell, whether fictional or autobiographical or somewhere in between. Sometimes the story is so clear and strong it almost writes itself.

Then there are the many other times when writers have to figure out what to do with their ideas, characters, plot twists, etc. What is the BEST way to tell the story? Outline first, or just dive in? Build the plot, or hang out with the characters?

There is plenty of advice out there on what to do and how to do it. It all boils down to these three approaches.

The way the writer wants to tell it.

When I first wrote The Heart of a Diamond (Literal Illusion, Digital Fiction Publishing), I told it from the POV of Princess Tavia. At the time I thought she was the character who had the most to lose. As the story progressed, I discovered the hero really did have a lot more to lose. So I rewrote the entire story from Prince Khestri’s POV. Same events. Most of the same dialogue. The ending turned out to be the same Big Picture event with the adjustment of some key details. It’s a much better story with richer magical elements, greater tension, and a more effective climax.

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Classic story structure.

These days many writers identify themselves as being plotters or pantsers. Always being one to defy easy categorization, I’m what they call a “plantser.” I will rough out some general notes about the part of the story I either know the most about, feel most strongly about, or both. Then I’ll plunge in. I confess I am a big fan of classic story structure, mapped out most clearly in Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. If you haven’t read The Hero With A Thousand Faces, rush right out and get yourself a copy.

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How the main characters changes in the course of trying to achieve the story goal is the essence of the story and its meaning. It’s been my experience that following the tenets of classic story structure ensures high stakes, rising action, and the suspense that makes a good story worth reading.

The way the story itself wants to be told.

Most writers have at least one anecdote about how one or more characters took off in another direction, dragging the story into unsuspected twists and turns. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Other times it can be terribly confusing. This is where all the advice about having an “Anything goes!” attitude toward the first draft makes life easier. No limits. Play around. Listen to your characters talking to you and talking to each other. We might know what we want to say, but the story may be bigger than that small piece of meaning.

Just the other day I pulled an old short story out of  my files. I had sold it and even made some money from it. Still intrigued by the central idea, I started to tinker with it. One thing led to another, the characters mutated on me, and now it looks like the original story turned itself inside out and the three main characters all changed gender and nationality and the stakes are a whole lot higher. Wow!

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How to Make Room for Fresh Ideas


by Lillian Csernica on January 4, 2018

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Courtesy of Debby Young

A New Year. A fresh start. We’ve got the laptop or writing journal ready, we’ve got our favorite source of caffeine to hand, and we’re ready to write.

Hello, blank page. The cursor blinks at us like a tapping foot, impatiently awaiting some outpouring of brilliant ideas. That’s when the trouble starts.

  • Anxiety
  • Self-doubt
  • Imposter Syndrome
  • The Inner Editor
  • All those other racing thoughts about everything else we should be doing right then.

Did you know that such thoughts can have their starting point outside our minds just as easily as inside? One of the principles of feng shui says clutter inhibits the free flow of energy. Stagnant energy interferes with a lot of activities, especially communication. What is writing if not communication?

I don’t have many writing rituals, but I do need clear space to spread out my notes, manuscript, laptop, pens, and whatever else I need for that writing session. This is why I go to the library a lot. There I can find nice long tables with plenty of space.

Want to do more and better writing this year? Clear out your space. We must make room in our lives for the fresh, new ideas by removing the physical items that jam up our minds with old negative energy and thought patterns. Open up your writing space, clear out the clutter that is damming up the free flow of energy, and you will see immediate results.

In the spirit of solidarity, I will show you exactly what I have to deal with, and how urgent the need really is.

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Books Yes, I have too many books. More precisely, I have too many books for the amount of space in my office. This has resulted in cardboard boxes of books taking up floor space. Not good. I have to prioritize the books according to what I need for my current novel, what I need for reference, and what I need for recharging my word batteries by reading for pleasure.

Notebooks Piles of notebooks sit here and there in my office. Some are writing journals in that I’ve written scenes, outlines, and notes in them. Others are the more classic writer’s journal full of ideas, character sketches, lists, and critique notes. What I have to do here is go through and see which whole notebooks are worth keeping and which ones need to have a few key pages torn out and filed where they belong.

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Stuff I’ve let a fair amount of miscellaneous stuff collect in my office for one simple reason. I have a bad habit of not putting things away. Clothes, reusable shopping bags, jewelry making supplies, and my amazing collection of tote bags filled with who knows what. Time to take a bite out of that mess by devoting 15 or 30 minutes at a go until all of it has been cleared up and cleaned out!

For more specific suggestions on how to do this, I recommend reading:

9 Clutter Clearing Tips for Good Feng Shui

Four Life Changing New Year’s Lessons for Writers

How to Kick Your Clutter Habit and Live in a Clean House Once and For All

How to De-Clutter Your Mind and Become a More Productive Writer

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Fantasy for Fun & Profit


by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2017

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That’s right. I’ve gone and done it. I have officially signed up for NaNoWriMo 2017.

I’m in the editing stage of The Flower Maiden Saga, so this year I’m going back to basics and writing a good old-fashioned sword & sorcery novel. When I first started to read fantasy, I gravitated to C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and of course Conan the Barbarian. Red Nails remains one of the most chilling and thrilling stories of its kind.

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Now the tricky part will be getting my daily 1667 words written while I’m doing all of this November stuff as well:

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A road trip up to EuCon in Eugene, Oregon. John will be teaching drawing classes in the Art Bus, which is sponsored by Imagination International Incorporated, the folks who make Copic markers.

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Making Thanksgiving happen.

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Celebrating John’s birthday.

And the usual daily chaos that keeps me on my toes.

All this and write 50,000 words? 200 pages? No problem!

Stay tuned, folks. Let’s see if I can make it to the end of November before my head explodes!

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Which Story Should You Write First?


by Lillian Csernica on August 28, 2017

44384633-creativity-and-imagination-concept-open-book-with-magical-city-inside-ship-palm-trees-tropical-islaYou’ve got two or more ideas in your head, fighting for your attention, demanding to be written.

It happens.

What do you do? How do you prioritize them? Maybe you really can write more than one story at once, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Everybody’s got a process. It’s good to know and respect your own. If you’re still somewhat new to writing narrative fiction, you might want to concentrate on one story at a time.

But again, which one?

The answer depends on knowing exactly what you want.

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Are you after the money? Go with the idea that’s most marketable.

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Are you out to make a statement or address an issue? Go with the idea that really sets your heart on fire, be it with anger, grief, or joy.

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Do you have what seems like a really cool idea but you’re all caught up in the worldbuilding and you can’t seem to make the characters behave and there’s all this research? Let that one sit. It sounds like it might be a novel. If you don’t have enough experience yet from writing short stories, writing a novel might be biting off more than you can chew. Do I know this from personal experience? Oh yes.

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When you get to the stage where you see ideas everywhere, that’s when you have to adjust your own settings as a writer. By doing so, you’ll be able to concentrate on the ideas that show up most strongly on the radar of your imagination.

How do you adjust those settings? Ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a deadline to meet? If there’s a submission window open and it has a firm deadline, that movies it up the priority list.

Is the idea time-sensitive? Seasonal themes often require submitting the story several months in advance, so keep an eye on guideline updates.

Do you have a particular word limit in mind? It might seem obvious to think flash fiction can be written in a shorter time frame than a novella. Shorter is often harder, because every word has to do that much more work. If you have more than one work-in-progress, the time factor is an important consideration.

Cost/benefit analysis

Will Idea A yield benefits that outweigh the costs of time, effort, marketing, etc.?

Opportunity cost

What else could you be doing instead of developing Idea A into a story? Maybe Idea B would yield more in the way of benefits long term.

If you want your writing to be more than a few random thoughts jotted in a personal journal while sipping a latte in the local coffeehouse, then this kind of analysis is very important. It may seem too cold and clinical to evaluate a creative effort in these terms, but hey, life is short. Make hay while the sun shines or the storms will come and all that hay will rot in the field. All that opportunity will be lost.

Regardless of which priority you choose, once you have settled on a project, there is one ironclad rule:

FINISH IT!

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All Writers Need This Skill


by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2017

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What is that skill? Eavesdropping.

From Wikipedia:

An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within. The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015)[3] and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013) include segments that display and discuss “eavedrops”, carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King’s wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear,[4] and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.[5]

I recently made the observation that cell phones have taken all the fun out of eavesdropping. When I said this, I was referring to texting. People have all kinds of conversations that people nearby can’t overhear, aside from the clicking of the keyboard.

A friend of mine pointed out that I was quite mistaken. He lives in San Francisco and makes frequent use of public transit. This gives him the opportunity to listen in on the amazing variety of really personal subjects people discuss when making actual calls on their cell phones.

Good point! This makes me feel better, even though most of the conversations I do overhear aren’t worth the time or attention.

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Eavesdropping is like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of mud before you see the gleam of real treasure. That one gleam can spark an idea that makes all that mud worthwhile.

When my younger son was little, he did what all little kids do, which is eat with his hands. At that time we had four cats in the house. Put these two facts together, and you get the day I heard myself say:

“Don’t get the cat sticky!”

People say the most absurd things, especially when they’re trying to be clever. I was sitting in the local Italian bakery on Sunday, writing in my journal while I ate a Lobster Tail. (I know, it’s not on my diet. I was celebrating my latest sale of a short story.) Two women came in and studied the goodies in the bakery cases. One said,

“The gelato is good, but the pastries are just a little too Italian for me.”

Sorry? What? If she didn’t like Italian pastries, why on earth had she come to an Italian bakery? Questions like this can get your imagination fired up. I could brainstorm ten crazy answers to that question. At least one might be worth building into a new story.

One of the greatest proofs of the value of eavesdropping is Harlan Ellison‘s short story Jeffty is Five. Mr. Ellison has said that the title came from a conversation he overheard. The actual statement was, “Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” By hearing it as “Jeff is five. He’s always five.”, Mr. Ellison found the seed of an idea. It flowered into a story that went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.

 

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Available Now on Smashwords!


by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017

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Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster. Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Want to find out if I really do know what I’m talking about? Fallen Idol appeared in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Just 99 cents from Digital Fiction Publishing!

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The #1 Question All Writers Should Ask


by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2017

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Stories grow out of two questions: What if? and What next?

If you’re like me, your stories tend to start out as a sudden flash of action or dialogue. Maybe you think of a character first, and then the problem. Either way, once you’ve got your basic idea on paper and it’s time to think about story structure, there’s one essential question you must answer:

Why now?

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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has to change his ways right now or he won’t live to see another Christmas.

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In The Hunger Games, when Katniss’ little sister is chosen to represent their District, Katniss has to take action right now to save her sister’s life. The only acceptable way is to volunteer and take her place.

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In Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney has to come up with some kind of life support system right now. Maybe NASA will mount a successful rescue mission.  Maybe Watney’s team will do it. That’s all off in the land of What Then? When you’re stuck on Mars with no hope in sight, right now means right now!

Answering the Why now? question will raise your stakes, heighten your action, and give your readers a story they’ll remember!

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The Writer’s Spellbook


by Lillian Csernica on August 1, 2017

AVAILABLE NOW ON SMASHWORDS!

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One of the most important elements of a fantasy novel or a game world is the magic system. A logical and consistent magic system will do a lot to help improve the quality of the story… A better magic system means a better story, and a better story means more readers!

PLENTY OF FORMATS TO CHOOSE FROM!

EPUB MOBI PDF IRL PDB TXT HTML

Whether you’re a writer or a gamer, a graphic novelist or an historical reenactor, The Writer’s Spellbook will give you step by step guidance in making the crucial decisions that will bring your fantasy world to life.

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How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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