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
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.
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
and is the editor-in-chief of Brew City Magazine.
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
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
Want his free how-to advice on book proposals, literary agents, and query
letters? Get it before your competition does at:
Withecombe recently acquired a publisher using firstwriter.com's
of publishers. We asked him about his writing, and how he
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
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
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.
fw:What did you find was the best way to look for potential
BW: As I have said above, the Writers Year Book is a good
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
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
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
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
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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.
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
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.
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