Writing Festivals

lamppost-4Writing festivals can be fun and good learning experiences for writers. Four of us Lamppost Writers headed out to this past weekend’s Word on the Street Writing Festival in Toronto.

We attended four presentations. Three we found productive, one we didn’t. Read on for some insights.

What Literary Agents are Looking For

olgaOlga Filina of The Rights Factory and Carolyn Forde of Westwood fordeCreative Artists gave us a substantive idea of what agents look for in their slush pile. It largely depends on each agent, so checking out their websites is important.

My Relationship Hurts: Love and Feelings in Literature

Authors Kim Echlin and Trevor Cole led this presentation. This topic was supposedly on romance, but neither author wished to discuss sex in romance. Since both appeared to be literary writers, they both talked around the subject instead of about it. Questions from the audience were lacklustre reflecting the boredom we all felt. The only time the audience woke up was when there was a question regarding a love triangle.

Mr. Cole would help sell a few more books to women if he got off his high horse and realized that women were people too. I found the way he talked about his book and his protagonist who decides to brainwash his ex-wife into loving him again quite offensive, as did my other three companions. To be clear – it wasn’t the subject matter as the way he spoke and his body language and dismissive attitude.

Overcoming the Odds: Long Journeys to Publication

Ann Y. K. Choi, author of Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety and Shari Lapena, author of The Couple Next Door both gave the audience an insight into their road to publication. Ann Choi’s enthusiasm was infectious; Shari Lapena seemed stand-offish and out of touch with the audience.

First Impressions: Manuscript Evaluations

Several first pages from novels were read and discussed by Humber teacher Kim Moritsugu and Dominic Farrell, developmental editor with Dundurn Press. Ms. Moritsugu was excellent and the points she made were well taken. Mr. Farrell, unfortunately, appeared nervous and it was difficult to follow the thread of his remarks.

Would I go again to the Festival? Yes, definitely – but the organizers should ensure that their presenters are vetted so that the audience gets the most of the Festival. 

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Inspiration For Stories

Credit: a2ua.com

Credit: a2ua.com

Inspiration for a new book comes in different forms for different people. Sometimes a word or a phrase can start you down a path to a novel, sometimes a quirky character that you’ve met may become someone in your story, and sometimes it’s just plain hard work coming up with a good idea.

How to Come Up With Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere. As a writer, you just need to recognize it. Sometimes, a riveting childhood – be it good or bad – can kick-start a story. Jeannette Walls did this with her book The Glass Castle.

The main thing anyone can do is to allow your imagination to bloom. Elizabeth Gilbert, authorelizabeth of Eat, Pray, Love gave a very interesting TEDTALK called Your elusive creative genius which goes into the whole notion of a creative muse. All writers will be inspired and motivated by this Ted Talk. 

But all the inspiration in the world will amount to nothing if you don’t put that effort into practice. Once you have an idea, you need to flesh it out and see whether it has enough meat to cover an entire novel – or perhaps it’s meant to be just a short story.

The most important thing you can do for yourself though is to write. Trust in your imagination by testing out new ideas and novel scenarios.

You might also enjoy these links from Writer’s Digest:

Follow Bev on Twitter @bev_bell or on Facebook

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Memoir Writing

memoirMemoir writing is one of the most popular forms of creative writing, and it can be a wonderful gift to your family and friends.

Your life story is, by definition, a memoir and as such is yours and yours alone. No other author could possibly have written the same story and that’s what makes it unique. But what are the chances of your memoir getting published in a traditional press? Sadly, not very high. And that’s because, unless you have an incredibly unusual life, very few publishers are willing to take a chance on you. After all, why would anyone pick up a memoir by someone who is unknown?

For celebrities however, the opposite rings true. They have a built-in fan base and that’s whykeith there is a flood of mediocre memoirs by celebrities. Because, let’s face it. They may be celebrities, but they may not be good writers.

What can you do to get your memoir noticed?

Write a spectacular memoir that hovers on fiction like The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Reading this memoir is like reading fiction. You keep asking yourself how this could possibly have happened in real life.

Many people like to write about their problems with divorce, drugs, abuse, incest – and this can be a very cathartic experience but it is a difficult genre to sell to a publisher unless you are well-known or have something extremely unusual in your story. That’s why it makes sense to look up memoirists who have written on the same subject. The reason you want to look them up is to make sure your story has a completely different slant.

Read, read, and read some more in order to write well.

You might also like these articles from Writer’s Digest:

7 Serious Tips for Writing a Humor-Filled Novel
5 Moral Dilemmas That Make Characters (& Stories) Better
3 Things Your Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish

Follow Bev Bell on Twitter @bev_bell or on Facebook

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Start Your Novel

Credit: joshuamowll.wordpress.com

Credit: joshuamowll.wordpress.com

How you start your novel can be a fun, spontaneous process, or one filled with forethought and planning.

Many people have different ways of approaching writing and no one way is right or wrong. Sometimes, the perfect first line can lead you to creating an entire imaginary world – it’s like the story erupts within you, based on that cue. People who work in this way are called ‘pantsers’ meaning they fly by the seat of their pants.

Other times, it is necessary to think and draw up a story arc to plot exactly where you are going. People who work this way are called ‘plotters’ because they plot their story in depth. There is no right or wrong way. And in actual fact, you do need elements of both approaches.

Having said that, if you are new to writing it would make sense for you to answer these

Credit: deadline.com

Credit: deadline.com

questions before starting:

Do you have a storyline?
Who is your protagonist is and what does he or she want?
What is their goal, their objective?
What is the inciting incidents that sets the protagonist on their path?
Who is the antagonist or villain?

Once you can answer these questions, you can start fleshing out the characters and develop sub-plots, a climax and a way of ending your story on a satisfying note.

Writing a novel is consuming and fun, but you need to let your imagination take over. When writing a first draft, let the story flow in an organic way. Re-writing will take care of making sure everything makes sense in the story. Joining a writing class or a critiquing group will help you move your story forward and learn the elements of good writing.

You might also like:

Follow Bev on Twitter @bev_bell or on Facebook

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Complex Vocabulary in Fiction

Credit: mind42.com

Credit: mind42.com

Don’t get hung up on complex vocabulary.

Writing should always be simple and direct. The whole purpose of writing a story is to communicate your ideas to the person who is reading it. So if you confuse your reader with big words, you will be doing yourself a disservice.

Now, you could have a character in your story who is addicted to using big words. You can have fun with a character like this and way back in 1775, Richard Sheridan did

Credit: richardmajor.com

Credit: richardmajor.com

this to great effect in his play The Rivals. His character, Mrs. Malaprop thought she was extremely high and mighty and used words she thought were correct, but were wrong.

Example: Mrs. Malaprop said, “Illiterate him quite from your memory” (she meant obliterate) and “She’s as headstrong as an allegory” (but meant alligator). As you see, the words almost sound right, but are actually nonsensical.

While you don’t want to talk down to your reader, you do want to write in a simple way that is understandable to all. If you read masters like Hemingway and John Steinbeck, they write simple and elegant prose and rarely use complex vocabulary. Learn from them and ditch the big words. They won’t serve you well. You will just come across as a pompous writer who is talking down to the reader.

Learn more through these links to Writer’s Digest:

4 Tips to Improve Your Writing Instantly
Write a Standout Chapter 1
A Writer’s Guide to the Web

Follow Bev on Twitter @bev_bell and on Facebook

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How to Acquire Creative Writing Skills

headEverybody and anybody can acquire basic creative writing skills.

Like every profession, writers need tools and the main tools of this profession are words and imagination. If you don’t love words and the language you are writing in, you will go nowhere. And if you don’t have imagination, you will be unable to create a story.

So how does a novice acquire these basic creative writing skills?

It’s very simple. Read as much as you can in your favorite genre and in other genres as well. I read voraciously on every subject and the more I read, the more I want to read. Reading fuels your imagination and helps you in your own writing.

Observation is another skill you need to develop. Sit at a cafe on a sunny day and people watch.

Credit: philosophy.talons43.ca

Credit: philosophy.talons43.ca

Make notes – you never know when you might be able to use some of those notes in the stories you write. Watch your family – we all have quirky people in our families. You can use those characteristics in your work. Nothing is off limit – just change names and places.

But most of all write something everyday. It doesn’t have to be a part of a story. It can be observations, a diary or just notes. Writing helps you become a better writer. And take a writing class like the ones offered here at Beyond-the-Lamppost (spots still available in the Thursday group-email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com).

I, like many other creative writing instructors, offer online classes as well as in-class sessions. Take advantage of them and you will brush up on the skills you need.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you from Writer’s Digest:

10 Dos and Dont’s For the Aspiring Novelist
The Value of Tough Love and Honest Feedback.
Open Your Eyes and Ears: Writing Inspiration is all Around You.

Follow Beverley Burgess Bell on Twitter @Bev_Bell or find her on Facebook

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First Line in a Novel

www.almostanauthor.com

www.almostanauthor.com

Should a first line in a novel be dialogue? This was a discussion with a writing student of mine who opened her novel with a line of dialogue. The line was good and worked very well. It just didn’t work for me as a hook.

And of course, the hook in a novel is paramount. Without it, your book will be shelved – and not bought. Worse, not read.

Personally, I find a novel weak when it begins with dialogue, rendering me confused as to what’s going on, who’s talking and why. I want a first narrative sentence that grabs me and wallops me over the head immediately before I get sucked into dialogue.

Credit: www.indiesunlimited.com

Credit: www.indiesunlimited.com

But, as I mentioned to the student, having said that, what every writer should bear in mind is that your novel is just that – yours, so of course you have ultimate say in what you believe to be the best way to introduce your work. But, trends are constantly appearing in the publishing world (ex. semi-colons and colons are going out of style) and if you want your novel to be picked up by an agent, it is necessary to modernize and bring your work up to what is perceived to be the modern standard.

 It is a fine line to walk – making sure that your novel is true to the way you want it to be and making sure that the literary gatekeepers will approve and take it on in order to get published. As far as my students are concerned – the goal for me is to have everyone  (including myself) published in the traditional way (for me, it is the yardstick for everything). So while we cannot slavishly follow every trend, certain aspects are worth noting so that you can be published. After all, is that not our goal?

 The first page, first paragraph, nay – first line is ultra important to me and as many of my students will tell you very frankly – I have been an unmerciful nag on this subject. It is the crux upon which you can succeed or fail, so think long and hard  how you want to proceed with the opening.

Let me know what you think.

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Creative Writing Classes for Fall 2016

narniaCreative writing classes can help you grow your story from just a concept, or a few written pages, to a full-blown gripping novel.

Schedule for BEYOND-THE-LAMPPOST writing classes for Fall 2016

Creative Writing 101 –  Tues. Sept. 27 – Dec. 13 This is a very basic course that teaches you the mechanics of writing a novel using writing prompts. By the end of 12 week, you will have a working draft.

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. Sept. 28 – Dec. 14 (CLASS IS FULL)

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. Sept. 29 – Dec. 15 (2 spots still available) Submit 1500 words each week and move your novel along rapidly. Lots of feedback from your peers and instructor.

Cost for all classes: $160 for 12 weeks
Location: Oakville
Please email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com to register and for more information.

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First Page Critiques by Literary Agents

first52First page critiques by literary agents are gold for writers. At the Toronto Writing Workshop, held a week ago, we were fortunate to drop off our first page for critiquing. As we all know, the first page is enormously important. It can make or break your book.

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

A panel of 11 agents read the first page (they picked random people). My fellow writer, Linda and I were in the front and were chosen to yell out ‘Six’ when six agents held up their hands which meant the first page had bored them and they wouldn’t read any further. (We did our job with aplomb!) About 12-15 first pages were read and almost every one was cut short because 6 agents raised their hands. In every single case, at least 4 agents raised their hands.

Here are some of the comments from the agents:

Opening with dialogue is a red flag

– Introduce your plot right away

– If your first paragraph has major issues, it introduces red flags for the agent

– Red flags for an agent – Character begins novel by waking up, seeing what he/she looks like and weather

– Make sure every word belongs on the page

– Expository dialogue – stuff you wouldn’t say, but is the author giving info

– You can introduce the reader to something shocking but don’t spoil it by taking the reader out of the action

– Grammatical errors are totally fixable but turn the agent off

– Role of profanity. Use it when it works – not for shock value. Must be authentic

– Swearing in description is really difficult – ex: shitty little apartment (doesn’t work)

– Don’t open with a bored character. Your reader might get bored as well. Don’t make your reader bored along with the character

– Don’t lose your effectiveness by overusing certain words

– Starting with a date might turn off some readers. Only use if really necessary

– Lack of flow is a problem

– Skin doesn’t become hyper aware. Be aware of how you are in your head

– Be careful of looking like you’ve pulled something out of the thesaurus. Don’t be too creative with your words (meaning using high-falutin words) it pulls the reader out

– Don’t start getting technical right away. If the reader doesn’t know who’s talking, you will lose them

– Nix the wordiness. Agents will immediately assume the rest of the manuscript is wordy too

– Description overkill – you have an entire manuscript to build your world. Don’t do everything on the first page. Sensory overkill

– Recognize that telling every detail can be better served by showing it

I wish they had picked one of the five of our first pages. I guarantee there would have been
no raised hands.

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Pitching to Literary Agents

20160820_092501Five of us Beyond-the-Lamppost writers attended last Saturday’s Toronto Writing Workshop in where we pitched our stories to several literary agents who were attending the conference. There were eleven literary agents there:

Marisa Corvisiero of The Corvisiero Agency
Moe Ferrara of the Bookends Literary Agency
Chris Bucci of The McDermid Agency
Cassandra Rodgers of The Rights Factory
Ali McDonald of The Rights Factory
Olga Filina of The Rights Factory
Rachel Letofsky of The Cooke Agency
Ellie Sipila of_____
Sue Miller of the Donaghy Literary Agency
Stacey Donaghy of the Donaghy Literary Group
Veronica Park of the Corvisiero Literary Agency

We all did 1-2 pitching sessions each. The results were better than we expected:

1 request for a full manuscript
Several requests for partial (50 pages) manuscripts
High interest in the pitched novel with a request to send query and first chapter once it’s been
Edited to required word count
Solid advice on the pitched query
Solid advice on the pitched story and how to make the plot even more exciting

It was worth the fear, the anxiety and the wet armpits. In the end, I think we all figured out that literary agents aren’t the demons we made them out to be in our minds, but were human beings just like us. And if we talked and behaved in our natural way, good things would come.

The excitement has come, the fulls and partials sent out but the work is not done. They could still be rejected and no offer of representation offered. So, as every writer knows – keep plugging away at sending out the queries and Write On.

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