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Writing and Publishing Tips (Clip Show #9)
Episode 91Bonus Episode6th February 2024 • Writing Break • America's Editor
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Tune in for wall-to-wall writing and publishing tips for authors.

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Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

Writing Break is the winner of the silver Davey Award in the category of Individual Episodes-Advice. Congratulations to America's Editor and the production team at Allon Media.

We are approaching our 2nd anniversary here at Writing Break and celebrating our sixth award in two years. It’s amazing. You are amazing. Thank you for listening, and thanks especially to my producer, who has notified me that it is review time again already. Every episode I provide you with at least one writing tip, and every few weeks I put together a clip show of the last few writing tip segments as a refresher for you.

In the next episode we will be talking about how NOT to market your book, so do come back for that.

If you have a writing or publishing question you would like me to answer, email me at podcast@writingbreak.com or send me a message on Instagram at @writingbreakpodcast.

Now, let’s settle in at the Writing Break cafe and get started on a full episode of writing tips.

From Episode 84: Query Letters vs Book Proposals

In the past four seasons of Writing Break, we’ve focused a lot on fiction writing. Many of the writing tips for fiction writing are also relevant for non-fiction writing, but this season, I want to intentionally contrast the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing.

For starters, let’s look at the submission process for authors. Fiction authors who have never been published need to have a completed manuscript when they submit to literary agents and publishers. You don’t submit the entire manuscript right away, but every agent interested in your work will ask for the first 50 pages and then the whole manuscript, so you’ll want to have the manuscript completed in order to hang on to that momentum and keep the agent’s attention.

For non-fiction, it is possible for new authors to sign with a literary agent and a publishing house without having written the entire manuscript first. Rather than the query letters used by fiction writers, nonfiction writers submit a book proposal. If the agent is interested in your book, they might ask you for chapter summaries and a sample chapter or three. So with just a fraction of the book written, a nonfiction writer can receive part of an advance to help fund them while they’re finishing up the book. Then the rest of the advance is paid in two or three more installments as the writing progresses.

Check the show notes for Jane Friedman’s take on writing a book proposal. There are also countless book proposal templates available online for free.

From Episode 85: Foreshadowing Takes Finesse

I love when an author knows how to incorporate seamless foreshadowing into their story. To be clear, foreshadowing is a literary device used to hint at future events in a story. It isn’t just used for negative events either; foreshadowing can clue your readers in on a positive event that might happen in the future, and that alone might keep your readers reading until the end of the book. This is a literary technique that can be used in both fiction and nonfiction, and it can be found as early in the book as the book’s title.

Foreshadowing can be used to create suspense, build tension, or prepare the reader for a plot twist, and it can be done in a variety of ways, such as through dialogue, imagery, or symbolism. It can also help to add depth and complexity to characters and events. Working foreshadowing into a story takes finesse, but as with all things related to writing, the more you practice, the more you’ll improve.

Foreshadowing can take place in the narrative or in the dialogue. It can be subtle or obvious, direct or indirect. In direct foreshadowing, the author explicitly hints at what will happen later in the story. It is the most obvious type of foreshadowing.

An example of direct foreshadowing in the dialogue would be a character making a prediction about the future or warning another character about something that is going to happen.

An example of direct foreshadowing in the narrative would be the narrator using ominous language or imagery to hint at what is going to happen.

A character might also have a prophetic dream or vision, which might or might not include dialogue. I am not a big fan of dreams as foreshadowing because I feel that it is overdone, but there are some stories in which a dream as direct foreshadowing works well.

Indirect foreshadowing is less obvious and more difficult to identify than direct foreshadowing, but it can also be more rewarding for the reader. When readers are able to pick up on indirect foreshadowing, it can make them feel more engaged in the story and more satisfied with the ending. For example, the author might use symbolism or imagery to suggest what will happen later in the story, a character might make an offhand remark that turns out to be a foreshadowing statement, or the setting and atmosphere create a sense of foreboding that lets the reader know something isn’t quite right here. When attempting to write indirect foreshadowing, make it subtle enough that the reader doesn't immediately recognize it.

Foreshadowing is a great tool for authors, but it is important to not overdo it. Too much foreshadowing can ruin the suspense and make the story predictable. Keep in mind that foreshadowing is not always literal. Sometimes, authors use foreshadowing to hint at a symbolic meaning rather than a literal event.

Paradoxically, readers like being surprised, and they like trying to figure out where the story is headed. Foreshadowing is a powerful way for authors to engage their readers and keep them guessing. When used effectively, foreshadowing can create a sense of suspense and anticipation that can make a story memorable and satisfying for the reader.

From Episode 86: Examples of Foreshadowing

Continuing our discussion of foreshadowing, I couldn’t quite let the topic go without firing Chekhov’s gun. Let’s begin with the man. Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer. Chekhov's gun is a principle of storytelling that states that every element introduced in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. It is sometimes referred to as "the principle of superfluity" or "the rule of economy." In a letter to a young playwright Chekhov wrote "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, in the second or third act it must absolutely go off."

This generally means that every detail introduced in a story must have a significant bearing on the plot. This does not mean that every detail must be explicitly mentioned again later in the story, but rather that it must be relevant to the overall narrative and contribute to the reader's understanding of the story.

For example, if a character is introduced early in a story and is described as carrying a gun, it is likely that this gun will be used in some way later in the story. If the gun is never used, it should be removed from the story. By removing unnecessary details and ensuring that every element in the story is essential, writers can create stories that are more likely to engage and captivate their readers.

One byproduct of following this rule of economy is foreshadowing. And this begs the question, if we know that a gun will go off, does that ruin the suspense? Nope. It heightens the suspense. The reader is certain it will go off but not certain of the target or the shooter. That is exciting. That builds suspense. That is good storytelling.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, and I really hope that you consider very carefully whether or not you truly need to make an exception in your story. But here’s one example: if a gun collection is shown to establish something about the character, you might be able to get away with it, but I think, if there is a gun collector, there should be a smoking gun at some point. So just consider whether every detail in the story is necessary. That’s just going to make your story better, I guarantee it.

Here are some examples of Chekhov's gun in literature:

In Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, a gun is introduced in the novel when passengers are boarding the train. The gun is never explicitly mentioned again, but it is implied that the murderer used the gun to kill the victim.

Oh, spoiler alerts, by the way, I forgot to say that.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, a sword is introduced early in the play when Hamlet's father, the King, is murdered. The sword is used by Hamlet to kill several characters throughout the play, including the King's murderer, Claudius. This use of Chekhov's gun helps drive the plot of the play and create a sense of violence and revenge.

In The Lord of the Rings, the One Ring is introduced early in the story and is the object of Sauron's desire. The ring is ultimately destroyed at the end of the story, which brings about Sauron's defeat.

Similarly, if not exactly the same, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the Sorcerer's Stone is introduced early in the story and is the object of Voldemort's desire. The stone is ultimately destroyed at the end of the story, which prevents Voldemort from regaining his body.

So, Chekhov's gun, this rule of economy, is a valuable tool for writers of all genres. By following this principle, writers can create stories that are focused, suspenseful, and realistic.

From Episode 87: New Book Trends on Amazon

As we discussed earlier, K-lytics is reporting that paranormal romance readers appear to be shifting toward fantasy romance, which is also referred to as romantasy. Before we get into the business side of things, let’s take a look at the main differences between the two genres.

The first important difference that comes to mind is the setting. Paranormal romance usually takes place in the modern world with the addition of supernatural elements. A good portion of the book often focuses on how supernatural characters navigate the everyday world and interact with non-supernatural characters. Meanwhile, fantasy romance often takes place in a fictional world, completely separate from our own reality, with its own complex history, cultures, and rules. This provides a broader canvas for world-building and exploring different magical systems and societies.

The second main difference is the genre focus. Paranormal romance focuses on the romance between two characters, one or both of whom possess supernatural abilities. The supernatural elements mainly serve to enhance the love story and create conflict and tension. Regardless of whether a paranormal romance story is lighthearted or dark, the emphasis remains on the emotional journey of the characters and their relationships.

While romance is still a central theme in fantasy romance, other plot elements like world-building, adventure, and political intrigue are often just as important. The supernatural elements are more deeply integrated into the world and play a significant role in shaping the narrative. Fantasy romance is seen as more action-oriented and adventurous than paranormal romance, with higher stakes and more complex conflicts.

Paranormal romance subgenres include vampire romance, witch romance, ghost romance, and shifter romance, such as werewolves. Each subgenre has its own set of tropes and conventions.

Fantasy romance subgenres include high fantasy romance, epic fantasy romance, and urban fantasy romance, with each drawing from different fantasy elements and inspirations.

The distinction between paranormal romance and fantasy romance is not always clear-cut, and there can be significant overlap between the two. So why is it important that paranormal romance is fading in popularity while fantasy romance is gaining it?

The report from K-lytics is drawing from Amazon trends. Readers are now using search terms like “dark romance” and “fantasy romance” more often than “paranormal romance.” And the paranormal romance books that are trending are darker and more fantastical than is common for paranormal romance. Does this mean that if you’re a paranormal romance writer you should switch to writing fantasy romance? Not necessarily. However, if your book walks the line between the two, you might want to make sure that the number one category right now for your book is fantasy romance. Write what you want, but know that K-lytics is estimating that the fantasy romance category has seen 20 percent more earnings this year than last.

Regardless of the genre in which you write, it’s important to keep track of what’s selling in your genre and subgenre. This goes for nonfiction writers as well. Your writing does not have to be influenced by what is trending, but know that your bank account will be. May the book sales be ever in your favor.

From Episode 88: Authors Behaving Badly

Cait Corrain’s book, Crown of Starlight, debuted this year and was doing all right. It was published by Del Rey Books, and we all know by now that self-published and traditionally published authors alike are expected to participate in the marketing of their books. However, Cait’s marketing strategy was a unique one. She created several different Goodreads accounts and began giving one-star ratings to her fellow authors, including authors published by her publishing company. In addition to one-star ratings for those authors, she gave herself five-star ratings and upvoted her book on several Goodreads lists. Worst of all, Cait, who is white, focused her one-star reviews primarily on books written by nonwhite authors.

Once the evidence started to come out, she doubled down. She said that it was not her but rather a member of an online group who was not really a friend, just an overzealous fan trying to help her out. She even went so far as to share screenshots between her and the culprit. However, the timestamps on these screenshots were off, showing the conversation breaking the time continuum. No one was buying her story, and the investigation continued. Eventually the truth came out. Cait’s publisher and literary agent dropped her, and she admitted to review bombing her fellow authors, targeting BIPOC authors, and faking a conversation between her and her supposed overzealous fan.

I know marketing books is not everyone’s favorite thing to do. I know that jealousy can be hard to overcome. But the time and energy Cait put into everything she did would have been better spent engaging with potential readers and promoting her book on BookTok.

So as we head into:

From Episode 89: 3 Questions to Ask About Your Opening Line

In episode 29 we discussed writing your hook, which is the part of the book’s opening that grabs your readers’ attention and makes them keep reading. Check that episode for details on how to write a killer hook. Today we’re zooming in on just your opening sentence and looking at some memorable opening sentences in literature. I am not saying these are the best opening lines, rather I am saying they are memorable. I will even go as far as to say that they are good opening lines. We know, of course, famous lines like “Call me Ishmael” from Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Is his name Ishmael, or is that just what we’re meant to call him? We are intrigued by this syntax. Or, at least, we were the first hundred times we heard the line.

Then there’s “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. How could it possibly be both? The sentence doesn’t end there, and maybe it goes on a little too long, but the beginning of that sentence is memorable. Those two examples open with a mystery and confuse the reader in such a way that they want to keep reading.

Your opening line should set the tone for the rest of the story. Many first-time authors take a long time describing the opening scenery, which signals to the reader that they can expect more of that throughout the entire book. However, most of the time, the author does not spend the entire book describing every scene in the same slow and overly detailed way as they did during the opening chapter.

A good opening line might throw the reader into the action and even create a sense of danger, allowing the reader to fall into the story without flowery writing or unnecessary details. For example, there’s the opening line in The Gunslinger by Stephen King: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." This uses minimal but sharp details and sets us off on a thrilling chase, no time to waste.

A good opening line might be evocative, such as the opening line in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: “Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.” This creates a sense of wonder and introspection. What do you wish for when you see a ship on the horizon?

Another opening line that evokes curiosity and self-reflection is the opening of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The reader instantly thinks about their own family while also wondering what is the unique unhappiness plaguing the family we’re about to get to know.

Here are some more memorable first lines. Let’s not psychoanalyze why I chose these over so many other good ones:

From One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

From Paradise by Toni Morrison: “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.”

From Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: "History has failed us, but no matter.”

While I hope you found this episode interesting and entertaining, keep in mind that there are plenty of excellent books whose opening lines are not committed to memory by the masses.

However, if you are inspired to take a moment to review your book’s opening, ask yourself these three questions:

Does my book’s opening hook the reader within the first few sentences, sparking curiosity and excitement for what’s to come?

Does the opening establish the tone and atmosphere of the entire book?

Does the opening introduce essential elements like setting, characters, and potential conflict? It doesn’t need to introduce the settings, characters and conflicts for the entire book, but it should do so for the opening scene.

From Episode 90: Writing a Good First Line

Last week I told you about three questions to ask your book’s opening if you’re writing fiction. For nonfiction, the first two questions still apply:

Does my book’s opening hook the reader within the first few sentences, sparking curiosity and excitement for what’s to come?

Does the opening establish the tone and atmosphere of the entire book?

The third question just needs to be tweaked a bit.

Does the opening introduce essential elements, like a thread of mystery begging to be unraveled, your unique voice and personality, and the themes and challenges you’ll explore?

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, it’s important to hook readers with your opening. If you’re writing a true crime, you might want to begin with unsettling details. If you’re writing a memoir, you might want to begin with vulnerability and honesty. If you’re writing something philosophical, why not begin with a surprising or controversial statement?

Vivid imagery is necessary for a good opening, no matter what genre you’re writing.

Here are some examples of intriguing opening lines in nonfiction:

From Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, "When I was nine, I wrote a vow of celibacy on a piece of paper and ate it."

From “How to Live After You Die” by Derek Humphry, “The first time I died, it was a Tuesday."

From The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster."

From Unweaving The Rainbow by Richard Dawkins, “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”

This last one I really like:

From Truth and Logic by Alfred Ayer, “The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful.”

I hope you enjoyed this bonus episode. Tune in next episode for more writing tips and the latest publishing news and book trends. As I said at the beginning of this episode, we will be discussing book marketing don’ts during our next Writing Break. And I say at the end of every episode, thank you so much for listening, and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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