Posts Tagged ‘Deanna Knippling’

Sweet Success for DeAnna Knippling

Congratulations to DeAnna Knippling on the release of her new book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Knight of Shattered Dreams from Wonderland Press on May 28, 2019 (ASIN: B07SFYQS45, 192 pages, for older teens and up). This finishes the story from book 1, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts.  

Alice's Adventures in Underland: The Knight of Shattered Dreams by [Knippling, DeAnna]

One thing was certain, that the zombies had everything to do with it…

Almost nine years have passed since that golden afternoon when gentleman zombie Charles Dodgson told Alice Liddell and her two sisters the story of Alice’s Adventures in Underland, the story of how Alice goes to the land of the zombies and what she finds there–and how she escapes.

The real Alice is no longer a little girl, but a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, troubled by the restricted life ahead of her as an upper-class woman in Victorian Britain.  Soon she will have to look for a husband…whom she hopes to find in a younger son of Queen Victoria, her old friend and playmate, Prince Leopold.

Queen Victoria has other ideas.

Then another, more virulent outbreak of the zombie virus spreads across Britain, leaving nowhere untouched…with Alice’s only hope being, once again, Mr. Dodgson and one of his wonderful stories, this time on the other side of a looking glass…

DeAnna Knippling

DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America.  Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two part series. See yesterday’s post for Part 1. We pick up where we left off yesterday….

Your First Comp

To find your first comp book, first find out what you’re selling (genre and subgenre), then look at the bestseller list for that genre.  Don’t pick anything that hasn’t been released yet.  Click on a book, then note the name of the publisher and whether they’re traditional, small press, or indie; the publication date; the number of reviews; and the sales rank.

Finding your first comp is the hardest. Make sure it is the best.
  • If you’re not sure whether the publisher is traditional, small press, or indie, copy the publisher name and search for them in Google.
  • Look for a publication date of 2-3 years at most.  If you’re not sure whether the date is the original publication date or just the date the book was uploaded to Amazon (or whatever site you’re using), look up the same book on Goodreads, which should list the original publication date (“first published XXXX”).
  • The number of reviews should be at least a dozen, although more is better.
  • Indies can select books of any bestselling rank; I would say that for people doing traditional or small press, don’t go above the 2,000 ranking on Amazon.com (the US site)—some agents and editors get a bajillion queries for “the next Harry Potter” and may be turned off by that, where “the next Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris” might be perfect.
  • I would not pick anything under a 50,000 ranking on Amazon.com for a comp.
  • I would not pick any book that is clearly on sale; the sales rank will be temporarily skewed.
  • If you’re struggling, pick a bestselling book that is somewhat close to your own and look at the “also boughts” or “sponsored products” that are related to that book.  Anything that Amazon thinks will sell because you came to the Harry Potter sales page may be a good comp for a book like Harry Potter.  Looking at Goodreads lists with that bestselling book in them can be helpful as well.
  • I would not pick anything related to a media franchise.  The marketing will be skewed toward the movie, TV show, or video game; likewise, the sales rankings will be artificially lifted by fans of the other media checking out the book. 

Subgenres

Some subgenres, especially down in nonfiction book rankings, can have lower sales ranks in general.  If your subgenre’s sales ranks don’t match the numbers I gave, I would say that, roughly, don’t pick anything in the top 10 or under the top 50, if possible.

Finding your first comp is the hardest!  After that, you can leapfrog to other comp books by searching for books like your first comp.  Make sure your first comp is as good as you can get it!

Example Comps

In our domestic suspense example, I skimmed through the bestseller list and checked the following books:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Back Bay Books, which I googled and found was part of the Hachette Book Group (a large traditional publisher).  It has a movie out, and it is more than 3 years old.  The rank is in the 8500s (which is fine).  5000+ reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to movie and age.
  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Flatiron Books, which I googled and found was part of Macmillan Publishers (a large traditional publisher).  A TV series is in production (which makes it multimedia).  It was published in 2018.  The rank is in the 9500s.  722 reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to TV series.
  • It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell is a traditionally published book, published by a subdivision of Macmillan.  I can’t find any related multimedia. It was originally published in 2017.  The rank is in the 10,000s.  527 reviews.  Not on sale.  We can use this!

Also Bought

Scrolling down to the “also bought” section of the It’s Always the Husband page, I can see several other titles that might work.  With some effort, I picked out:

  • White Lies by Lucy Dawson. (Small press, no multimedia, 14,000s sales rank, not on sale, 253 reviews, published 2018.)
  • The Ex-Wife by Jess Rider. (Small press, no multimedia, 31,000s sales rank, not on sale, 380 reviews, published 2018).
  • Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. (Trad press, movie options sold but no movie in the works [this is okay for our purposes], 22,000s sales rank, not on sale, 402 reviews, published 2017.)
  • The Liar’s Wife by Samantha Hayes.  (Small press, no multimedia, 9000s sales rank, not on sale, 125 reviews, published 2018.)

Some notes:  The sales ranking between print and ebook will vary.  If you’re aiming for traditional publishing, look for print sales ranks; if you’re aiming for indie, go with ebook.  But, really, if a book hits a decent ranking on either print or ebook, it’s probably fine.

Some websites, Amazon especially, tries to make everything look like it’s on sale when it’s not.  If it’s $3.99 US or over on the ebook, just assume it’s not on sale—although traditional publishers’ ebooks will usually be $9.99 to $12.99 US. 

We now have our five comps!

What to Do with Your Comps

Now that you have comps, you have a wealth of options:

  • Pick out similarities between titles to use when titling your book.
  • Pick out similarities between covers and use them for your book cover, especially when sending instructions to a cover artist/designer.
  • Study their book descriptions for hints and tricks.  (But, beware: book descriptions are often terrible, even on successful books.  Consult The Copywriter’s Handbook for copywriting tips.)
  • See what categories the books are in and use for additional sales categories for your book.
  • Use alternate categories as keywords.
  • Use comps to find ad keywords.
  • Look up the authors online and see how they are marketing themselves via their websites, newsletters, and social media accounts. (Again, caution; sometimes authors are terrible at this.)
  • Find out (on Goodreads, for example) who is reading those books so you can start working out your audience.

And more.

Comps in a Query

In a query letter, you may want to only mention the top one or two comps that you’ve chosen; however, if you are including a book marketing plan for your book (which is beyond the scope of this article), you can include all of your comps as data points.

Marketing is a separate skill from writing an actual book, but it can still play into your writing.  Understanding your audience is never a bad thing. 

But let me stress that you don’t need to start with your marketing before you start writing.  It is perfectly okay to write that one weird book that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.  You will find comps.  They won’t be perfect, but they’ll help you get away with writing what you really want to write.

On the other hand, if you’re stuck for ideas, starting with a book you enjoyed is not a bad way to start brainstorming…


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 1

Most of us, as writers, are not that skilled at the beginning-to-end process of selling things.  We aren’t trained marketers or promoters; most of us haven’t gone door-to-door selling encyclopedias (although some of us have sold Girl Scout Cookies and other items, back in the day). 

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.

Selling things isn’t just banging on someone’s door with a fundraising form for a band trip.  Someone has to figure out what to sell, who they’re selling it to, and what that thing will do for the customer, then translate that into packaging, ads, marketing text, and even the forms the customer fills out to make their orders.

Books are no different, either for traditionally published or indie authors.  Roughly speaking, here’s the process:

  • You decide to be an author.
  • You write books.
  • You sell, or help sell, those books.
Let’s say you’ve completed a book. 
What next?

You need to figure out what story you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, what that story will do for the reader, and translate all that into covers, ads, book descriptions, newsletters, and so on.

If you are an indie writer, this process is essential; no marketing means no sales! 

If you are a traditionally published writer, this process seems like it’s not your problem, but it really is—you will be expected to help sell your book, once it’s published.  Even before it’s published, you will need to understand what you’re selling in order to write a query letter and synopsis. 

Why are query letters and synopses so hard? 

Because they involved understanding how to market your book.

In other words, whether you’re an indie or are traditionally published, understanding marketing will help you sell books.

Marketing vs. Promotion

Marketing is the invisible process of getting your book ready to sell.  Once your book goes on sale, the efforts that you put toward selling your book are no longer marketing, but promotion.  Marketing = finding your market.  Promotion = making people within that market aware of your book.

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.  You will be able to respond quickly to opportunities as they arise.  Marketing is like having your house in good repair and staged and ready to show for possible buyers, and listed for sale.

Promotion is showing your house, or holding an open house.  That open house may look like what sells your house—but without the hours of repair work, cleaning, and staging, your house isn’t as likely to sell as quickly or for as much, if at all.

First the marketing.  Then the promoting.

(Unless you discover from your promoting that your marketing is flawed.  Then you can switch back to marketing mode.)

Where to Start with Marketing

You’ve decided to do some marketing. 

Now what?

Some people start with the marketing research.  Other people write the book first and then do the marketing research.  I recommend the latter; markets change in popularity but passion gives a project legs (in other words, the ability to build an audience over time).

But, in either case, the first step remains the same:  find out what you’re selling.

How do you find out what you’re selling?

The same way a real estate appraiser finds out the value of a house: they find multiple comps, or comparable examples of houses in your neighborhood that have been sold recently.

To sell a house, find several other houses nearby that sold well.  To sell a book, find more books.

Your story has a genre.  That is the “city” that your story lives in.  Your story has a subgenre.  That is the “neighborhood” that your story lives in.  Your genre and subgenre are where you should start to look.

Finding Your Story’s Neighborhood

Let’s say that your story is a domestic suspense novel.  Your “city” is mystery/crime/suspense; your “neighborhood” is domestic suspense.

As an example, let’s look on the Amazon bestseller lists and find their term for a domestic suspense novel.  (It might not be the same term across distributors, and you might have multiple options.)

Let’s start out with the Amazon Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense list. 

The subcategories (on the left side) are:  Mystery; Thrillers & Suspense; and Writing.  Our domestic suspense example probably “lives” in Thrillers & Suspense rather than Mystery or Writing, so let’s go there.

If we look down the list of subcategories under Thrillers & Suspense, we find one called Domestic.  Let’s click that.  We are now in a good “neighborhood” for a domestic suspense story.

A note for indie publishers:  make sure you’re looking through the Kindle/ebook lists, rather than print (print often has separate lists).  Print skews toward traditional and small-press publishers, and may not give you a full range of good comps.

Finding Your Story’s Comp Books

What makes a good comp book?

This will be affected by whether you’re selling an indie book or are putting together a query letter for a traditionally published project.  Indie books should draw from a mix of indie, small press, and traditional sources; traditionally published projects should go for just traditional sources.  Small press books should lean toward a mix of small-press books and traditionally published books.

In general:

  • Comp books should have been published within the last 2-3 years.
  • Comp books should at least be in the same subgenre.  If they have the same type of plot or setting, even better!
  • Comp books must have the same overall audience:  children’s, middle-grade, YA, adult, etc.  Don’t use a YA domestic suspense title as a comp for an adult domestic suspense book!
  • Comp books should have a reasonable amount of success, but not be flops or bestsellers for traditional and small-press publishers.  Indie publishers can go after the bestsellers as comps, if they like. Agents and editors are often annoyed by a comparison to a really famous book.

A note: don’t worry about name recognition on your comps.  Book pitches should feature books that people recognize easily; comps should be books that sell reasonably well (name recognition not necessary).

Part 2 posts tomorrow.

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Letter from the Editor – March & April

Dear Readers,

My letter to you this month is coming a few days late. Sorry, but I have a really good reason. Writing from the Peak is jam packed with such an amazing batch of posts that I am having a few problems getting them all scheduled. It is so packed that I am going to skip my letter in April.

KICKING OFF MARCH

We kick off these two months with a two part series from DeAnna Knippling who will guide you through Book Appraisals: Picking Comps. Margena Holmes introduces us to a non-PPW event, Camp NaNo, which takes place during the month of April. Jason Diaz, faculty member for PPWC2019, also has a two part series post on Why diversify our characters? Don’t miss this one.

INTO APRIL

As we go into April, award winning author and keynote speaker Susan Wiggs shares her writing process in Stuff you need to Know about Writing. Next up is Rebecca Davis, a long time attendee of PPWC, who has her top 5 lists of the Peevie Jeevies of editors and agents.

Mid-month, New York Times best selling author John Gilstrap will get you up to speed on Networking at Conference. Be ready to shake some hands and pass around business cards at PPWC2019.

Wrapping up April, Gabrielle Brown will give you the scoop on What to Expect at Conference followed by Margena Holmes who is in the know about Marketing on a Budget.

Never fear…your favorites are still here. Lit-Quotes will celebrate a few birthday anniversaries, and the wrap up from Writers Night will stop by in March and April.

Whew!! That’s a lot! Be sure to BOOKMARK this blog so you don’t miss anything. Come back often to keep up with all the news from Writing from the Peak.

See You at Conference! ~Kathie~

CONFERENCE!

What’s in store for early May? CONFERENCE!!

The Prequel is May 2nd and PPWC2019 gets in full swing on May 3rd. Take a look at the workshops that are scheduled and the Who’s Who of PPWC2019. Hope to see you there!!

REGISTER TODAY!

EARLY REGISTRATION CLOSES APRIL 7TH

Regular registration runs April 8 – April 28


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Red Herrings

The topic of red herrings is a big one.  There are a million ways to distract or mislead a reader.

But…

There’s really only one strategy to building a red herring: figure out the reader’s expectations and feed them information relating to that expectation, then sent the plot careening off in another direction.

Reader Expectations

The story you didn't write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

The real trick is discovering what readers expect.  Part of the reason that it’s so important to keep up with your reading (and watching TV/film, and playing video games…) is that expectations change.  The expectations of someone who watches forensics shows on TV are going to be different than those of a longtime Agatha Christie reader.

But once you’re in front of a blank page, how can you work red herrings into your story? (And do you have to plot it all out ahead of time in order to pull it off?)

Your main weapon, whether you plot as you go or plot ahead of time, is going to be something called Wilhelm’s Law, after science fiction and mystery author Kate Wilhelm:

Throw away your first three ideas.

Now, using Wilhelm’s Law while writing fiction is a good idea in most cases anyway; instead of writing predictable stories, you’ll usually end up with a story that reflects you personally as a writer.  But a side effect of taking in a lot of stories is that those first three ideas will pop out as being what most readers would expect.

Let’s say you’re writing a murder mystery and we want to test Wilhelm’s Law.  Who done it?

  • The butler.
  • The significant other.
  • Whoever profits by the crime.

Those first three ideas are something that anyone could come up with, right?

Those first three ideas might make really good red herrings.

Let’s say that the real killer was someone recently humiliated by the victim and “accidentally” didn’t save the victim when the victim fell into a lake while tangled in a rope.  Oops, can’t swim! 

Your job, as a writer, might be to make sure that your story has a butler character who might have done it, a significant other who might have done it, and a scuzzy niece who just happened to have been seen near the scene of the crime (and who is now blackmailing the real “killer” and will get murdered in the last 50 pages of the novel).

You can do this on the fly, editing to make sure that your red herrings actually fit the bill, or you can plan it out ahead of time: whatever suits.

However, you must keep up with your intake of stories!  Otherwise, you may not know that the red herrings and plot twist that you just planned out have already been discovered by other writers and done to death! 

Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice…

There are two ways to deceive the reader using Wilhelm’s Law.  One depends on deceiving the characters within the story, which means the reader will also be deceived (as in our example above). 

The other depends on deceiving the reader without necessarily deceiving the characters.

In the first type of red herring, the POV character might think the killer is one person, but it’s really another.  Characters might lie, leave out details, or shade the truth. The bad guy might not be the real bad guy, but someone else’s puppet.  You can set up red herrings within the plot in lots of ways. 

In the second type of red herring, the way the book itself is written is what deceives the readers.  One example is the misleading title.  One of my favorite books is called John Dies at the End.  Hint:  John does not die at the end!

You might also:

  • Start a story with a prologue featuring events that happen toward the end of the book, but do not happen in the way the reader might expect.
  • Start a story with a POV character who gets killed off right away, or in the middle of the book (George R.R. Martin does both in A Game of Thrones).
  • Set up a cliché, then overturn it (the bumbling housewife in The Long Kiss Goodnight is set up to be rescued by the world-savvy spy Samuel L. Jackson, which is not the case).
  • End a scene by hinting at some event, and starting the next scene with something that seems like that event but isn’t (The Princess Bride, when Buttercup has her nightmare of having already married Humperdink).

Each instance of deception is crafted in the same way: identify what the reader expects, give them a hint to confirm their expectations, and let them deceive themselves.  (Letting readers do most of the work to fool themselves is usually a pretty good strategy.)  But instead of using Wilhelm’s Law on the plot itself, you’re using it on the story structure and other elements.

As an example, let’s say you’re writing a domestic suspense novel.  Readers expect the titles of that kind of novel (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Wife Between Us, Lie to Me,etc.) should:

  • Have a pronoun in the title.
  • Have “girl,” “woman,” or “wife” in the title.
  • Have a one-syllable negative word, like “Lie” “Die” “Sharp” or “Last.”

Those are reader expectations.  If you wanted to play on those expectations, you might name your book “My Daughter’s Last Lie” and imply that she’s dead and the mom is searching for her killer, but instead have the daughter on the run because she told the truth about her (KGB sleeper agent) mother.

Often, what works best is using both techniques at the same time.  There’s a lie within the plot, and you use elements of the story itself to reinforce the expectations related to that lie.              

Warning:  Beginning writers often write stories where the narrator withholds information from readers in a disappointing, cheesy, ill-considered manner.  This is not a proper red herring technique! 

Oh, so the evil invaders from outer space were really humans all along, were they?  Yawn.

Oh, so the first-person narrator dies at the end?  Never seen that before!  Yawn.

But being forewarned is forearmed, because now you know that plot twists and red herrings don’t come from completely reversing reader expectations, but knowing them so well that you can one-up them.

A good rule of thumb for red herring success: 

The story that you didn’t write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

I know, it sounds weird.  But think of any story with a letdown plot twist.  Personally, I hate the movie Bridge to Terabithia.*  It starts out as a pair of kids imagining a cool fantasy world.  Then (spoiler alert) it turns into a book about death.  The red herring story is much more interesting than the story about coping with death.  The red herring needs to be as interesting as the actual story, too.  You’re not fooling anyone with a stereotyped butler character! 

The thing about red herrings is that they play with reader expectations—but you can’t just overturn reader expectations with a sneer.  Readers need to know that you respect the stories that they love and not just being mean.  What readers love is when you surprise them—not when you show them contempt.

*It feels like the story punishes people who like fantasy over realism in their fiction.  Pooh, I say. 


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

With all the new developments here at Pikes Peak Writers I’m not sure if I can contain my excitement. PPW started as a writing conference and has grown to so much more. They continue to spread their wings and soar to new heights. Read on for more.

It’s a NEWSLETTER!

Did you receive the first PPW Newsletter? What a fantastic job Kim Olgren did to bring this to fruition. If you missed the debut issue go to the membership page to join PPW. It’s FREE, and so is the newsletter.

Can you say, ANTHOLOGY?

I am excited to announce another addition to the Pikes Peak Writers toolbox. Can you say, ANTHOLOGY? The planning is still in the early stages, but PPW is publishing an anthology! The editorial team is being assembled along with the theme and publication details. Watch the website, social media, and this blog for information to come.

This Month in Writing from the Peak

To kick off PPW’s anthology announcement, Jamie Ferguson has written two posts on writing for an anthology. If you are interested in submitting to PPW’s, or if you have your eye on one of the many wonderful publications out there, you need to read both articles. DeAnna Knippling throws a Red Herring your way, and Leilah Wright has Advice for the Beginning Writer. Get A K.I.S.S. of Comedy from Rebekka R.J. Rowley then wrap it with inspiration found in Gabrielle Brown’s bi-monthly Lit-Quotes.

#PPWC2019

It will be another amazing year at conference. Will you be there? This a great place to meet new people (It Takes a Tribe!), and the workshops will be phenomenal. Registration is open. Don’t miss this fantastic conference. You’ll find all the details here. Find your Tribe at #PPWC2019!

Spread Your Wings!

How are you spreading your wings this month? Are you starting a new project, or pruning the feathers on your WIP? Whatever you are working on, do it with purpose. Write with conviction. Make every word soar on the wind. Be the best you can be. WRITE!


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Every writer seems to want to shut up the little voice that says, “That thing you’re writing? It’s no good.” Just like we want the magic secret to writing a good story, we want to know the secret switch that turns off every negative thing we ever think about our work.

Like a lot of things in writing, the solution is pretty simple…but not easy.

First, let’s define what’s not a problem. If your inner critic doesn’t keep you from writing what you want to write, it’s not a problem.
Louder, for those in the back: Your inner critic isn’t the problem. Not writing is the problem.

Your inner critic is still part of you, a part that sounds like the parent who never believed in you or the English teacher who hated your writing. That awful voice that’s tearing your work to pieces…

…it’s just you.

To be a good writer, you have to pour yourself into your writing, including the parts you don’t like. Where does a good villain come from? Do happy-go-lucky people write good dark nights of the soul?

A good long-term strategy for writing books embraces your inner critic. You can push yourself through a few books while ignoring that voice. (People push through a lot of things.) But you can’t push yourself through a career.

So how do you get your inner critic to work with you, rather than against you?

Thinking FictionGive your inner critic permission to be heard.

You can’t think your way through fiction. Thinking is part of writing fiction, true, but it isn’t the essence.

Fiction is a simulation, either of this world or of a world of your own creation. You establish the world, characters, and initial problem, and set some guidelines on how the story works.

You know what else is like that? A game.

You can’t play a game by deciding that you already won…and how. We say, “And in the end, this happens and that happens and this is how the reader will feel, and now I will write my book.”

But you have to play the game by playing it: set up the board, the rules, and all the pieces, and…see who wins.

Some writers play that part of the game by outlining first, then writing; others write first, then step back and make sure they didn’t cheat too badly. You can nudge the board a little, but not too much—readers notice.

Set up your story and then trust yourself to work it out. It won’t be easy. But it’s a lot easier than saying, “Everything I write is stupid.”
Different people will find different techniques. It won’t always feel safe—your best techniques might feel almost physically uncomfortable.
But they’ll be the ones that put the words on the page.

Studying Fiction

You can’t both improve as a writer and already be so good that you never need to improve.

Part of your inner critic is right: You’re not as good as you want to be.

But, like all criticism on writing, take it with a grain of salt: your inner critic may not know what is actually wrong. Like a bad critique group, it can start jumping to conclusions.

MORE COMMAS! FEWER COMMAS! WOODEN DIALOG! TOO MUCH EXPOSITION! TOO LITTLE!!!

The rules of fiction don’t matter, if they don’t work for you. What you need to learn is what works for you. And your inner critic can actually help with that.

Study other writers’ works. Chew their gristle in your teeth. Your inner critic may say, “I love that!” and start stealing techniques. It may also say, “I hate that!” and come up with creative ways to avoid whatever “that” is. And if you let your inner critic tear up other writers’ works, it won’t spend so much time on yours.

Don’t just read books about writing, though: the chewing has already been done for you.

Feeling Fiction

At some point, life gets to be too much and you can’t get the words done. It happens. Let’s talk about the gray area where you might or might not get words done, and how to get more words done.

You can do that by allowing your deepest feelings move into your fiction.

In some of us, this will result in darker fiction; in others, paradoxically, it will result in lighter fiction. It varies from story to story. When we open the door between fiction and reality, the results can be unpredictable.

These are the stories that allow us as writers to move forward with our lives, to grieve, to heal, to apologize, to regret, to celebrate, to embrace. Stories are how humans make life make sense. Writing a story can be how you make sense of right here, right now.

But how?

Stop and listen to your inner critic.

“This is stupid” might mean “I can’t pretend anymore that I’m not hurting.”

“I don’t know what to write next” might mean “I don’t know what to do next, either.”

“My character doesn’t want to do what the outline says” might mean “I can’t make myself fit into my own plans either.”

And then respond to how you really feel in your characters’ actions. Just acknowledging what you’re trying to tell yourself can open a magical door that makes everything you write richer.

It comes down to…

What this all comes down to is giving your inner critic permission to be heard. You don’t have to listen uncritically. But please do listen. Your inner critic isn’t there to hurt you, but to warn you that you’re not on the right path. It may not always be accurate, especially if you’ve been ignoring it or if you haven’t done a lot of studying. Your inner critic might be too mad to be fair…and it might be too ignorant to be right.

It can take a while to lower the alarm levels on your inner critic to useful levels. But once you do, your writing will probably feel less like work you have to push through, and more like the enjoyable—and exciting!—game that it really is.

 


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Sweet Success for DeAnna Knippling

Congratulations to DeAnna Knippling and the release of the multi-authored Dawn of the Monsters. Other featured authors are: Dean Wesley Smith, Ron Collins, P. D. Cacek, Mark Leslie, Steve Vernon , Annie Reed, Sèphera Girón, Rebecca M. Senese, Marcelle Dubé, and Jamie Ferguson.

DeAnna Knippling, Dawn of MonstersThis volume, DAWN OF THE MONSTERS, features trolls, goblins, creeps, mad scientists, vampires, aliens, Frankenstein, a very nasty ex-girlfriend, a mysterious egg, a bargain you can’t refuse, something dark and mysterious that lives underground, and a disgusting, evil beast straight out of the swamp!

We can’t promise that these tales won’t make you think…but they’ll grab you by your sense of adventure and take you for a ride!

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

 


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Sweet Success is coordinated by Managing Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim.

Here and Gone in a Flash: How to Write Flash Fiction

So you’ve been thinking about writing flash fiction, but you’re not sure what to write…or, more importantly, what not to write! When you’re used to writing other lengths of fiction, taking on a flash fiction project can seem intimidating.

What is Flash FictionFlash Fiction, Here and gone in a flash.

Duotrope (an online database of writers’ markets) gives the upper limit as a thousand words, but individual markets vary widely on what they want for lengths.

So instead of dwelling on word counts, let’s go with the following to explain flash fiction:

  • A very short story, intended to be read in a few minutes (while standing in line, for example),
  • Which has a character, setting, and problem (a setup) that is resolved in some way at the end,
  • And which has as little else as possible.

Where flash fiction differs from a “prose poem” is that a prose poem can completely disregard character, setting, problem, or resolution and still be effective. Many prose poems are simply images, moments, or character sketches. (Any other differences between poetry and fiction are beyond the scope of this article!)

How to Structure Flash Fiction

When it comes to structuring flash fiction, there are no rules!

One of the most interesting parts about flash fiction is that it can have wildly different structures. Flash fiction can be six words long; flash fiction can be a grocery list; flash fiction can be a list of instructions; flash fiction can be nothing but dialog.
As long as you state or imply a character, setting, problem, and resolution, then your flash fiction piece will probably work.

How to Set Up Flash Fiction

Let’s look at the famous six-word story, usually attributed to Hemingway:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In a flash fiction story, you can either state or imply your setup, but you have to have one. Here’s the setup for this story:

  • Character: at least one parent.
  • Setting: here and now in a Western culture.
  • Problem: the death of a child.

None of these things are stated outright, only implied.

In a slightly longer story, W. Somerset Maugham’s “Appointment in Samarra,” the elements are stated fairly clearly:

“There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

  • Character: a merchant’s servant.
  • Setting: Bagdad (then Samarra).
  • Problem: fear of Death.

Some stories will state parts of their setup and imply others. Often, when I’m writing a piece of flash fiction, I’ll discover that I can cut a lot of words that are implied by some other element of the story.

How to Resolve Flash Fiction

A flash fiction piece also has to have a resolution. But that begs the question, “Exactly what is a resolution?” A resolution has two parts: it establishes how the problem in the setup is handled by the character, and it tells the reader how to feel about that. The reader can be made to feel happy, sad, conflicted, ironic, or even frustrated that the whole situation is sure to happen again.

Here are the resolutions in the examples above:

In “Baby Shoes…”:

  • The resolution is implied at the beginning of the story, in the words, “For sale:”
  • The problem of the death of the baby is handled practically and cynically.
  • The reader is supposed to feel sad for the baby, but sadder still for the parent, who can’t afford (whether emotionally or financially is not clear) to keep the shoes.

In “Appointment in Samarra”:

  • The resolution is at the end of the story, when Death explains that she was surprised to see the merchant’s servant in Bagdad, when she had an appointment with him in Samarra.
  • The problem of the servant’s fear of Death is resolved by the implication of Death finding him regardless.
  • The reader is supposed to feel a sense of irony, in that the servant’s attempt to flee Bagdad succeeded but his attempt to flee Death did not.

Note how the normal “rules” of fiction are overturned in both stories. In the “Baby Shoes…” story, the resolution is at the beginning; in “Appointment in Samarra,” there isn’t any character development. Writing flash fiction can be an excellent exercise in learning how to break rules.

Darkness in Flash Fiction

One caveat about flash fiction: it is almost always easier to write a dark or cynical flash fiction piece than a lighthearted one. This has more to do with psychology than anything else. Human brains are primed for bad news! It takes fewer words for most people to pick up on an implication of something going wrong than something going right.

One Important Tip

You can almost always improve a flash fiction story by trimming off the ending lines! Something I’ve often noticed and discussed with other writers of flash fiction is the need to cut just one more line—usually from the end—to make the story more powerful.

Recommendations for Study

As always, my recommendation for learning how to study a writing technique is to get out and read something that uses it—and then typing it in. Then with every piece I would ask myself, “What are the character, setting, problem, and resolution?” and “What is the structure and why?” It won’t be easy to answer those questions at first!

Here are some excellent flash fiction resources:

As a reader, what I love about flash fiction is that good flash fiction is very intense and takes risks that other stories cannot. As a writer, what I love is taking those risks. I invite you to thumb your nose at any sense of intimidation and try a few!


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

A Quick Primer on Pacing

What is Pacing?

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Pacing is the length at which a story is told: from the length of the words, to the length of the sentences, to the length of the paragraphs, scenes, chapters, and story itself. In order to match the content of a story to the way a story is told, it is necessary to control one’s pacing.
An epic saga cannot be best told in a flash fiction. It requires some word-count.

Being able to see pacing is like being able to see the Matrix. You’re looking at a substratum of story that most people don’t know is there—and once you see it, you can’t not see it.In order to match the content of a story to the way a story is told, it is necessary to control one’s pacing.

So, what is it?

Words

The words that you choose for your story can make it feel fast or slow.

Your selected vocabulary assists in determining whether your fiction gives a straightforward or a more convoluted impression.

The meaning of the words can be essentially the same. But the feeling that a reader gets from them is not. A lot of popular fiction uses a stripped-down vocabulary to give a feeling of directness and veracity; more literary fiction tends to use bigger words, so the readers feel like they’re chewing on some seriously high-fiber, good-for-you fiction.

Sentences

A short sentence is blunt.

A longer sentence can give the impression of being more persuasive, more thoughtful, more expansive; the kind of connections one makes between simple sentences as one links them together also expresses more or less formality (semi-colons are very formal); a lot of dashes and parenthesis and commas and even a run-on sentence all indicate something going on in the sentence that requires a moment’s thought: the speaker is lying, some sort of philosopher, or not thinking straight.

Paragraphs

Skim through the paragraphs above.
Again. Just look at the lengths of the paragraphs. Don’t read any of it.
The fact that the paragraphs aren’t the same length is important.
Which paragraphs look easier to read?
Which ones are going to get skimmed?
Which ones pop out?
Do they pop out because they’re short or because they’re different?
What happens to a reader when a series of paragraphs goes from short, to medium, to short again?
What happens when a series of paragraphs starts out short, then gets longer?
What about paragraphs that show contrast?
What about paragraphs that are all the same? Does it sound natural? Or does hitting the paragraph return at regulated intervals start to destroy the meaning of what is written within them? Is it like repeating the same word over and over again, until it becomes meaningless?

Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Pizza.

I highly recommend breaking up any concentrated monotonies of paragraphs. Just hit the return key a few times. It’s liberating.

Scenes, Chapters, and Sections

The various pieces and parts within a story have their own pacing. As you start to shift your attention from paragraphs to larger sections within a story, you may start to notice that the paragraphing and sentence lengths shift with the tension in the scene. For example, a long paragraph might contain a lot of details that the POV character casually notices. A series of short paragraphs might indicate a chase scene.
Different writers handle their pacing differently, but there are some patterns that tend to form:

  • Shorter pacing is faster pacing.
  • Longer pacing is slower pacing.
  • Medium pacing is often broken up by longer or shorter pacing, just to keep the writing from becoming soporific, which is a word that here means “sleep-inducing.”

Something to watch for is a moment when the pacing doesn’t seem to fit the content. This is often a hint to the reader that things are not what they seem.

Stories

Pick up a print copy of War and Peace sometime. Or The Lord of the Rings. Compare the physical weight to something like “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts,” by Shirley Jackson.
Some stories are longer than others.
Some stories have to be longer than others.

The length of stories in a genre is not about “what sells” so much as how much plot, at what pace, the readers expect to get from stories in a certain genre. Romance novels are often shorter than epic fantasies. When people read a romance, they only want so many obstacles before the lovers get together. Too many obstacles, and it starts to feel too much like real life. With epic fantasy, readers want to have a lot of obstacles. And whether there’s a literal map included in the book or not, they want to have traveled all over it. This requires more plot and therefore more obstacles.

  • In a romance, having too many subplots is an unwelcome distraction. The reader really only cares about the main lovers.
  • In an epic fantasy, you almost can’t have too many subplots or POV characters. The reader cares about the world itself, and sometimes you need than a single main character to show it all off.
  • Short stories only have the tiniest bit of plot. They often spend most of their time setting up a single conflict.
  • Sagas have so much plot that it often takes generations and entire continents for it to all play out.
  • A novella or short novel is often the story about how one stripped-down incident suggests a larger whole.
  • A series of mystery novels—in which the mystery novels, of whatever length but all of them roughly similar—is often the story about how history repeats itself but that, with intelligence, you can learn to cope with it.

The quickest way to learn pacing is to type some in. Find authors who have been publishing a lot of bestselling books over a lot of years, and start typing in words from a book you like that’s been published in the last ten years or so. Don’t start with Stephen King or George R.R. Martin. They’ll probably be over your head. (They’re generally over mine.) After you’ve read something you like, take a moment to ask yourself why the author chose the pacing they did. Some authors are good at distracting you from how they work their magic tricks, so you just end up getting sucked back into the story. Studying those writers is like attempting to solve the unsolvable.

That’s good. Those are the ones you want.


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.