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  Issue #57

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Nov 24, 2007  

        

Setting the scene
By Ken Brosky
Editor-in-Chief, Brew City Magazine

Too many writers in today's age leave too much to their readers' imaginations, omitting key details in scenes that are just as important as the characters involved or their dialogue, threatening the image of "floating heads".

The "Scene" is the place where an event is unfolding. It is, essentially, what lies underneath the characters' feet at any given time. In a broader sense, the "Scene" is the setting in a particular chapter or moment of narration. And setting the scene is one of the elements that can create a great story.

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Here are some basic questions to ask whenever putting characters into a new scene:

1. Where are the characters standing?
2. When are the characters moving?
3. What is happening in the surroundings?

By answering these questions in detail and holding onto them throughout a particular scene, readers will be able to more easily visualise the story.

Where are the characters?
Sometimes, when two characters are on the phone, they might stay still for a long time. But in most situations, characters are moving. They're interacting with their environment, and their placement in any particular scene is essential for a reader to create a good mental image.

Writers often forget to "move" characters between scenes. This can include awkward jumps in time or simply moving the characters somewhere else without explaining how it happened. Always keep in mind that in order for readers to visualise the movements of a character, it is the writer's job to move that character in the narration.

When are the characters moving?
Writers often forget about their characters during dialogue, creating the "Floating Heads" effect: characters are engaged in dialogue, but nothing else is happening. The reader, thusly, is visualising two heads talking and floating in a blank space.

Characters fidget. They move constantly. Their bodies move independently. No-one stands completely still for any given amount of time, and writers should keep this in mind whenever characters are talking or otherwise. Keeping characters placed in the scene will help readers visualise them in a realistic manner.

Character movements can also be keys to understanding those characters. Their reactions and actions tell readers what they are like. For instance, a character who moves often may be nervous. A character who repeatedly scratches his nose may be a habitual liar.

What is happening in the surroundings?
Go out to a coffee shop, or a street corner, or even sit in an empty room. Things are happening. Sounds are coming from somewhere. Clocks are ticking. People are moving, interacting with their environment and every detail that's worth mentioning and should be mentioned. Take every opportunity to paint a realistic, detailed scene by incorporating the surroundings to make it easier for readers to visualise.

Sounds are coming from somewhere. Cars are going by outside. What does that tell the reader about the scene? If you tell the reader that cars are going by outside, then the reader is going to picture a scene with the sound of car engines in the background. These sounds may have an effect on what's happening in the scene.

Clocks are ticking. When should a writer mention this? How about when time is of the essence? When time is being involved in some way? Mention the ticking of the clock more than once and the reader will take it as a clue that this particular sound plays an importance on any of the characters in the scene.

People are moving. Who are moving? Why are they moving? When two of your characters are having a heated discussion in the middle of a crowded coffee shop, how is everyone else reacting? Are some people getting up and leaving? Are others watching intently?

The difference between a bad scene and a great scene is the difference between a dark empty room and a coffee shop. Greatness is in the details, and writers who keep this in mind will already have an advantage over a lot of their competition.

About the author
Ken Brosky's first novel,
Grendel, is now available through Amazon.com. His short stories can also be found in World Audience and WTF Magazine. Ken also provides editing help to other writers at www.FinalDraftLiterary.com and is the editor-in-chief of Brew City Magazine.

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Book proposal writing made easy
By William Cane

You want to write a nonfiction blockbuster, and you have a great idea, maybe even a title. Now the only thing you need to know is where to begin. The answer is the book proposal.

A book proposal saves you time and money. It saves you time because it allows you to sell your book idea without having to write the entire book. And it saves you money because it's much less expensive to write a proposal than to write a book. Typically authors spend anywhere from a few months to two years or more on a manuscript. You may have to make trips to the library, hire a researcher, or travel to do extensive research. Some of these costs can be reduced by creative writers who do most of their work from home. But even so, a few months to a few years is going to be an expensive proposition no matter how you look at it, which is why writing a book proposal can save you a substantial amount of money.

Because your investment in time and money is so much less up front, and because editors and literary agents will be more likely to consider your idea if it's in book proposal format, you'll want to learn to write a book proposal as the first step in your journey to becoming a published author.

There are numerous books about the process of writing a book proposal, but when you try to reconcile their often conflicting advice you may become confused about the exact nature of what an editor or literary agent is really looking for in a book proposal. While it's important to get all the sections right – such as the overview, the marketing and promotion sections, the chapter outlines, and the sample chapters – there is a rarely-discussed secret to writing book proposals that gets insufficient attention. This secret is my own discovery and it boils down to one word.

In just a moment I'll share that secret with you, but first let me ask you a question: why do you want to write your book? Is it to make money? To get recognised as an expert? To share your love of a particular subject?

Possibly all these motivations are involved. But the only answer that really matters is the one that reflects your love of the subject. If you can muster enough enthusiasm to write a book, to spend months or years researching and putting it together, then your feeling for your subject and your enthusiasm for the topic are the fuel that will carry you through to the finish line.

That's the real secret to writing a book proposal. Sure, you need the right format, the right sections, and the right sample chapters to get professional consideration. But if you lack the spark of personal enthusiasm for your subject, all that technical know-how isn't going to make much difference. If you love your topic and really want to share your knowledge
with others, you'll fly through all the rest.

Learning the nuts and bolts of proposal writing can be done by almost anyone. But having the enthusiasm for a particular subject and a burning desire to communicate what you know to others... that is the mark of a writer who can not only churn out words, but who can inspire others to read them.

If you have enthusiasm for your subject, don't get discouraged by the seemingly labyrinthine task of putting together the book proposal. Your love for your subject will guide you to the finish line more surely than anything else. Don't forget to mention somewhere in your proposal that you do love your subject. Of course, if that's true it'll be evident in your work, shining through from the overview all the way to your sample chapters. And it will make writing the proposal not only easy but fun as well.

About the author
William Cane is the international best-selling author of The Art of Kissing. Want his free how-to advice on book proposals, literary agents, and query letters? Get it before your competition does at: http://www.hiwrite.com

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How I found a publisher
An interview with author, Brian Withecombe

Brian Withecombe recently acquired a publisher using firstwriter.com's database of publishers. We asked him about his writing, and how he found success.

fw: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Brian. Tell us a little about the book you recently placed with a publisher.

BW: The book is called The Seagull and LeCorsair, and is set in 1795/6. It is the first in the series of "Courtenay" novels and is a "Hornblower" type book about a Royal Navy sloop-of-war hunting for pirates and privateers in the Caribbean, and in particular for a mysterious and particularly violent pirate called LeCorsair.

fw: What gave you the inspiration for the book?

BW: I have always been a Hornblower fan, and then I found the Douglas Reeman books, writing as Alexander Kent about the Bolitho family. There was also Dudley Pope but I suppose most of my inspiration comes from the Alexander Kent novels. As to ideas, I have the wonderful works of James on the Royal Navy during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars to fall back on, but I just use my imagination for the rest!

fw: How did you get started with the storyline?

BW: I just had the idea to write a book of that genre, and I have to say I did not really plan it in any detail. I thought up the storyline as I went along. I wrote the book some time ago now so I can’t remember how long it took to write but I suppose I produced the first draft in about 3 months or so. There have been a number of re-writes since then.

fw: Is this your first foray into the world of publishing?

BW: No, I had written a number of books before Seagull. One was published, unfortunately by a vanity publisher when I knew nothing about that side of things. It was called Fabric Dope…and Revenge and was set in WWI. It was the story of a half-English, half-German RFC pilot who was out to kill his German cousins for raping his sister before the War. I persuaded Waterstones in our town to take it and they sold 14 copies, 4 going in one morning, which they were quite pleased about! Then, after Seagull, I was asked by my former agent to do a children's book for the Trafalgar celebrations. It is called Trafalgar…and before, but the Publisher went bust before many got sold! This told the story of some of the important sea-battles which led up to Trafalgar. Many people know of that fight but what about the Nile or Copenhagen or Camperdown or St Vincent?

fw: How important do you think that track record was to you in securing your current publisher?

BW: I honestly doubt it helps to be previously published. I know someone who is regularly published in magazines but regrettably it hasn’t secured him a publishing deal at the moment, although he has had some books published in the past. I think a publisher will only take on a book if they like it and think it is a good commercial proposition, not because the author may have had something published before. There is an exception of course. It seems to me that there are plenty of publishers out there who will publish whatever you write if you are famous (or infamous)!

fw: What were the first steps you took to try and get your book into print?

BW: I tried the usual routes. Writing to publishers and agents, and for the most part with the latter, getting no replies at all to even an enquiry. I have tried the Writers’ Year Book, and then I joined firstwriter.com and tried many of the publishers listed there as well. Most of them replied, but most of them said it was not for them... some without even seeing any part of the MS! To be frank, I find most literary agents incredibly rude, and I really think sometimes they do not understand what they are actually looking for to try and sell. I did use to have an agent, but he let me down very badly. Then I found another one, and he did just the same. They both said they were sending lots of submissions when in fact they had done no such thing.

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fw: What did you find was the best way to look for potential publishers?

BW: As I have said above, the Writers Year Book is a good start, but firstwriter.com in my view is even better because there is the feedback system as well. It is a very good system, and extremely helpful as a whole.

fw: How did you go about approaching the publishers you found?

BW: Generally I make sure that publishers do publish the type of book I have written, then I send an enquiry first to see if they might be interested and it goes from there. I no longer send the first three chapters and synopsis.

fw: How long did you spend trying to place your work before you succeeded?

BW: Some time, believe me! I actually wrote the first version of Seagull some years ago when I was with my first agent. He was a film man primarily and I think he spent more time trying to get it made into a film than trying to sell the book. The one good thing he did do for me was to teach me how to write a screenplay. There are five completed books in the series at the moment, and three screenplays to go with them. Hopefully one day… I have lost count of the publishers I have approached.

fw: How did you keep going through all the rejections?

BW: Like most aspiring authors, I received many, many rejections. You just chalk it up to experience. I think in the end you expect them, and if there is even the shadow of an acceptance it is a pleasant surprise. Most rejections were polite and some were very nice. One big publisher only turned me down because they were about to embark on a similar period piece. Another liked the book, but felt the characters were not deep enough, although another said the characters were fine! It only just goes to show that one man’s meat etc.

fw: Which publisher will be bringing your book to market?

BW: Best Global Publishing, which is part of Chipmunkapublishing. It may be that Chipmunkapublishing will publish one of my novels as well, but I have to do some re-writes first. Best Global are publishing the first two of the series of British naval historical fiction books I have written.

fw: Chipmunkapublishing describe themselves as a social enterprise set up to work with charities and the government to help people with mental illness, but they do also provide a printing service. Have you been asked to pay anything towards the cost of publishing your book?

BW: There has not so far been any suggestion to me that Chipmunkapublishing charge. As far as Best Global is concerned, there is no payment due in respect of anything. You get your royalties, but there is no advance payment.

fw: When will the book be released?

BW: The book will be released as an e-book first, followed by paperback in 2008.

fw: Do you have any advice for other writers trying to get published?

BW: Yes, keep trying but be prepared to accept that publishing is a funny old industry (and film-making is even worse!).

fw: And what are you concentrating on now?

BW: The publishers have an option on the second in the series and that will be with them next week. As I said above, I have written the next three in the series on top of that, and the sixth book is nearing completion in first draft. I also have another book finished about the First World War and their other imprint is going to consider that one. At the moment I am busy on re-writes, but I am into the "Courtenay" books of course and I am also doing research for the seventh one. Hopefully, depending upon what the first two do, the publishers may be interested in the rest. So, readers and aspiring authors out there, go and buy The Seagull and LeCorsair!

fw: Thank you for your time, Brian, and best of luck with all your works!

To search firstwriter.com's database of over 850 publishers, click here

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 

News:

Copyright registration affiliate program
If you have a website you could be earning money from it with a new affiliate program launched this month by the Intellectual Property Rights Office (IPRO).

The IPRO is running a campaign to promote the importance of registering work for copyright protection, and is offering webmasters $10 per new registrant they refer to their Copyright Registration Service.

You can join the affiliate program for free by clicking here.

To register your own work, click here.

To join firstwriter.com's affiliate program, click here

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Ronnie Gramazio joins MLM
Ronnie Gramazio, former editor for the Australian houses of Wiley and Simon & Schuster, and The Lyons Press in the United States, has joined Martin Literary Management as the agent for Martin Literary Management-East.

The New York office will handle primarily fiction and children's books as well as true crime.

For over 750 other agencies, click here

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Winning Writers War Poetry Contest Winner
Kyle McDonald of Toronto is the winner of the sixth annual War Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers. This contest seeks today's best poetry on the theme of war Mr. McDonald's poem, "The Rose of Ilium", was judged the best of 840 entries from around the world. The winning entries are published at www.winning
writers.com/war
 

For over 150 other contests, click here 

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Entertainment industry articles needed
Urban Legend is a new online magazine publishing articles that show a creative slant to the entertainment industry and the culture that surrounds it.

The magazine is scheduled to launch in December and is seeking submissions of appropriate articles. For more information go to www.urbnlegend.com.

For over 850 other magazines, click here

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Hillerman Prizewinners announced
Christine Barber’s novel The Replacement Child has won the first Tony Hillerman Prize, while George Padgett has been announced as the winner of the annual Tony Hillerman Writers Conference mystery short story contest.

The Replacement Child will be published by the Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Minotaur imprint in autumn 2008. Barber received a $10,000 advance.

Padgett won $1,500 for his story, "Hey Old Man", which will be published in the March 2008 issue of Cowboys & Indians.

For information on entering next year's contests click here.

For over 150 other contests, click here

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© firstwriter.com 2007
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