Finding a Home for Your Story: Advice on Publication

Way back when I was about 22-years-old, I took a poetry class that changed my writing forever. I’m by no means a poet. I barely managed to write any decent poetry during the class. And since leaving the class, I’ve hardly ever written a poem – except for the occasional one that is born out of a purely emotional moment. But my lack of poetry skills isn’t what I took away from that class. It was actually quite the opposite. I walked away from that course as a newly-infused writer full of confidence and a sense of hope. As writers, we should always be filled with a sense of hope as we tell our stories. And we should always be hopeful that our work will find its intended audience.

That is probably the biggest take away that I received from my professor. She often spoke about “finding a home for your writing.” At first, we all thought she was talking about publication and finding the right magazine or journal to accept your work. That’s not remotely what she meant.

She told us a story about a series of poems she had written, which subsequently got rejected from every place she submitted to. Discouraged, she put them away in a file cabinet and forgot about them. Then, one day years later, she was going through the file cabinet and found them again. She was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time and her own words ended up being exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.

“Sometimes, you won’t always reach the broad audience base every writer dreams of,” she said bluntly. “Sometimes you’ll find that what you created will only reach a few people or even just one: yourself.”

The silence after she said those words covered the room in an impenetrable cloud of thought. I scanned the pensive faces of my fellow students as they digested what she’d just said.

Sensing many crushed dreams in that moment, my professor smiled as she added, “But you also have to keep in mind that your work serves a higher purpose. Everything you pour onto the page is intended for someone to read – to provide someone with whatever comfort they need in that moment. It will always find its intended audience so don’t be discouraged by your words. Use them. They will always be hope for someone who needs to read them.”

To this day, I still get chills when I think back to that moment in class. Every writer has a moment when they defined themselves as a writer – and that was mine, at the back of the classroom, quietly absorbing this poet’s wise words. Yes, we all want to be discovered as the next J.K. Rowling and have our stories printed for the masses, but those grandiose dreams are really us getting ahead of ourselves.

The journey to finding a home for our story doesn’t begin at the end of the road with a publishing contract and an advance; it begins with ourselves. We are our story’s first home. We are the ones who need to take comfort in our own words – after all, they live within us. Finding the hope within our writing will have a ripple effect. So far, I’ve had a couple short stories published and each one was the most honest version of the story in my mind that I managed to tell on paper.

See where I’m going with this? When you stop writing for the masses and write for yourself, you will be free to create the purest form of your story – and that version always manages to find its intended audience, whether large or small.

Interview with Author K.N. Nguyen

Dragon Soul Press had the pleasure of interviewing Author K.N. Nguyen!


Do you believe in writer’s block?

When I first started writing, I did. I first started writing my novel back in high school. I would work on it off and on throughout the years, always unsatisfied with where it was going, and shelving it for years at a time. I blamed writer’s block as the reason why I couldn’t complete the story. The plot and character development would always fizzle out, leaving me with a story that wouldn’t reveal itself to me. In May 2015, I picked up writing again and vowed to stick to it. It took two years, but I managed to finally complete my original idea that I started back in high school.

I think that I was able to complete my book for two reasons: 1) I was disciplined and actually made myself sit down and write every day, and 2) I started looking for mentors to help me stay on track. One of my mentors is my brother-in-law. We worked together to hold each other accountable and provide feedback. Another person who I would consider as a mentor, although I’m not sure if he would consider me a mentee, is another author. The second mentor is a published author who has always held himself open to me and provided advice to my questions. He’s helped me see that writer’s block is not what we think it is. In reality, it’s a mixture of different problems that have been dubbed “writer’s block”. Once I was able to see that it was all in my head, writing has become easier and less of a struggle.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I do read my reviews. How I deal with them depends on what stage my piece is in. When I get feedback from beta readers, I take it with a grain of salt and look to see if there is a common theme to the comments that I receive. If I notice that there’s several people asking questions or noting confusion or distaste about a particular section, I look to see if I can polish it further. This has led to me strengthening my characters or scene. As an author, sometimes you are cursed with inside perspective and don’t realize that a passage is unclear or a character is flawed because in your head they are perfect. I’ve had to strip down my babies a number of times until they reached their final form.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I don’t try to hide secrets, but I do try and like to have a good surprise.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

If I could function without sleep, I would use that extra time to write. I’ve recently experienced a big change in my life and I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like. Between this and my daytime job, I find myself missing my quiet moments to myself where I could go on an adventure in one of my stories.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Oh, this is a difficult one. I would probably say that The Chronicles of Narnia as a whole would be my favorite. That series heavily influenced my earlier writing style.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Finding a way to tie in my various deities to my series without overwhelming the reader. My first series is influenced by Mediterranean mythology and has a number of gods. Unlike the Romans and Greeks, I don’t have the luxury of the world knowing about my gods and so I have to be very careful in the way I incorporate them into my story.

How many hours a day do you write?

I used to write up to two hours or three thousand words a day, but things have fallen on the back-burner a bit. I hope to resume my usual routine shortly.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

I don’t know if I would consider it a spiritual practice. I use it more as a therapeutic one. When I picked up writing back in 2015, I used it as a way to decompress from work. I had a horrible habit of taking my work home with me and letting the stress build up. Once I started writing, I found that I was less stressed because I was able to separate my working world and my personal one.

What does literary success look like to you?

This is a good question. To me, it’s finishing a project. It took me seventeen years to finish my debut novel, and I barely did that. As I worked on the book, I found that my universe began to expand and I could see other stories that were waiting to be told. I never thought I would get to that point, and so to have all of these other worlds open up to me is amazing.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have one book (the second in my Fallen series) which is scheduled for release next year. I also have a novella and a couple short stories that I need to finish up in the next year. I’m glad you didn’t ask about how many unfinished story ideas because that would be about ten.

Where can readers learn more about you?

I have two Facebook pages, one for my personal author page and one for my writer’s group page. I also have a page for DragonScript where I attempt to blog and provide updates about all of the writers that have been involved in our anthologies.

Cardinal Sins in Writing

Amateur writers make a lot of mistakes. After all, writing is a learning process. You should always practice, practice, practice, and get your work edited, but what about during the process itself? What is it you should avoid as much as possible before you send your work out to the beta-readers? There are a lot of cardinal sins in writing. I will go over several here. Chances are if you have one or more of these in your story, your lit agent, or publisher will give your work a pass. In no particular order of importance, they are:

1. Tell, do not show. You tell me someone is angry, happy, or sad. You do not describe the body language to allow myself to make that judgment for myself. You use adverbs out the wazoo. A good rule of thumb, avoid using emotive words altogether. Also, avoid using descriptive dialogue tags when said and ask should suffice.

2. You use Passive Voice. The plane was exploded by a bomb instead of: A bomb exploded the plane. Was, were, had, to be, being, has been, have been, etc. All are passive verbs. Now you don’t have to try to eliminate all your passive verbs, but your action verbs should considerably outnumber your passive verbs.

3. Your Main Character is a Mary Sue / Gary Stu. Your character can do everything. They are smart, beautiful, strong, fast, sexually attractive (I’m talking h-a-w-t), can fight with just any kind of weapon, cast spells, the child of a god, (sigh!) the list goes on. Or maybe, they are not all those things, but you’ve constructed the story so that every challenge your main character faced, they just breezed right through.

4. Your story has no tension. Are the victories and arguments your character faced too easy? No setbacks? No twists? Everyone just goes along with the MC just because they are awesome? Yeah, don’t do this.

5. You pacing is disjointed. You put the climax in the middle of the book and the denouement is the wrap up from there on out. When gearing up for that epic battle, it completely fizzles or worse yet, it’s extraordinarily brief or doesn’t happen at all. Remember, your readers are conditioned to enjoy a completed story of beginning, middle, climax, denouement.

6. You switch POVs. Either choose First or Third Person. There are others, but uncommon and not really used effectively. If you choose First Person, then your story is told through your Main Character(s)’ eyes and by what they know. We don’t have the luxury to get into someone else’s head unless your MC can read minds. Third Person is quite common (and there are different subtypes), but if you switch POV’s from one character to the next, give us a scene break or chapter break so we know we’re hopping around. Second Person or other styles are very rare – use with caution.

7. You info-dump. If you write about the elves’ special coming-of-age ritual, we don’t need to know every single little detail about it unless necessary and especially if you tell it as if I’m sitting in History class. If we don’t need to know it for the story, odds are you didn’t need to tell us. Cut it out.

8. You did not research your story at all (or enough). You have a battle in the early 1800’s and your MC mans a Gatling gun, mowing down enemies. Except that the gun wasn’t invented and put into use until the American Civil War. Make sure you have done all the necessary research related to your story. If you set your story in an era where there is a lot of contention or debate among prominent historians/scientists, your safer bet is to go with the more popular accepted theory.

9. You did not write for the market. You love Twilight. You decide to write a love triangle with a sparkle vampire, a buffed werewolf, and a human girl who needs a boyfriend. Except no publisher wants a Twilight clone. They are done with it. They are also done with Harry Potter, Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey,and Game of Thrones. They are sick of the Chosen One trope. All of this is clearly written in their submission guidelines, but you wrote your Twilight story anyways. Was your story good? We won’t know unless you self-publish because that’s your only course of action from here.

In short, finish your story, and get it done. But after that, go through and look for all these areas of perceived weakness. Clean it up. Then gather your beta-readers to let them look for any weaknesses you missed.

Interview with Author Silvana G. Sanchez

Dragon Soul Press had the opportunity to sit down and interview Author Silvana G. Sanchez who is launching the second edition of her series!


 

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success to me is the ability to reach out to the reader with my words, establishing the magical connection that allows readers to immerse themselves in the worlds of my creation. The complicity between authors and their readers is unique, without it you’ve got nothing. Success in all its forms stems from that first unique bond.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Perhaps more psychological than spiritual. There is only so much I can store in the archives of my brain. I’ve gone through several emotional hardships in the last couple of years. Losing my first-born son, Iker, and being myself so close to dying definitely reshaped all of my preconceptions and reaffirmed my belief in what’s truly important in life. To this day, I find myself still placing those thoughts and emotions in the right compartments of my heart; writing sometimes is a healthy way to cast them out of my mind and onto the page, where they serve a better purpose… I guess in the end, writing can be healing in a spiritual sense.

What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?

I try not to base characters solely on people I know, but there certainly have been major influences from friends and acquaintances in the building of my characters. If I told you how Ivan Lockhart came to life as the heart of The Unnatural Brethren series, you’d probably call me crazy…and you’d be right, lol. There’s a lot of crazy going on in my writerly mind.

But seriously, I am grateful to have such a rich assortment of personalities amongst my friends, and I owe to them portraying on the page those traits and quirks as honestly as I can.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

*Insert maddening laughter here* So many! I’m currently working on five projects, shuffling revisions, drafts, and editing between them. Hopefully, you’ll get to see the third installment of the Unnatural Brethren series by the end of this year!

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

The dragon is a symbol that has accompanied me for years. In my view, the dragon represents strength, wisdom, and resilience.

I have a dragon tattooed on my back, two dragons actually. Each dragon symbolizes my past and future. Both are entwined emulating the Caduceus symbol, alluding to the fact that I’m also a doctor.

This interview is for Dragon Soul Press, so there you go: Dragons are the best!

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I don’t know that I am too demanding on my readers, maybe my sole demand would be for them to keep track of the characters and their plotlines –since there are so many.

I take every comment seriously and I listen to my readers’ expectations. Oftentimes, their hopes will meet with the needs of the story, and when they do, it’s exciting to give them that special scene they’ve been waiting for, knowing they’ll be as thrilled as I was when I wrote it.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

It has to be Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The theme is brilliant, how Anne Elliot is persuaded to break off her engagement to Wentworth, only to realize later on she’d made a mistake. Of all of Austen’s works, Persuasion gets the least amount of love. But it’s truly a masterpiece, not only because of how Austen handles the plot but because her narrative style was more mature by then. She expanded the use of Free Indirect Discourse, blending the voice of the narrator and character seamlessly, which immerses the reader in the story. It’s simply wonderful.

How many hours a day do you write?

More than measuring time, I keep track of my daily word count. Lately, my minimum daily word count has been two-thousand words, sometimes I get to five or six-thousand. What’s most important to me is to write every single day, which is easy when you have so many ongoing works in progress like I do, lol.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

I certainly have. There have been works which have reached best-selling status very quickly, even made it to the television or the silver screen, and by the time I’ve gotten around to reading them, they’ve proven painfully disappointing. I don’t want to start a whole thing about it, so I’ll keep those titles to myself. (It’s not you, J.K. Rowling, just in case you were wondering. It’s not you either, G.R.R. Martin, your books are brilliant!).

Where can readers learn more about you?

You can visit me at my website, Facebook, and Twitter. Looking forward to connecting with you there!

Invisible Words: Dialogue Tags and Why You Don’t Need Them (Much)

You’ve probably heard this piece of advice before, “Don’t use descriptive dialogue tags. Use only said and ask.” And that’s good advice. It makes a lot of sense because it is really jarring to read something like this:

John quipped, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah gasped, “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun,” John grumbled.

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex,” whispered Sarah.

John paused. He exclaimed, “Sure!”

Yeah, that’s terrible. So, how are we supposed to do it? Like this:

John said, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah said, “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun,” John said.

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex,” said Sarah.

John paused. He said, “Sure!”

The reason why the second sample was better than the first is that the words said (and ask if used) are invisible to the reader, and it shifted the emotion in the dialogue for the reader to figure. However, sometimes this can be jarring. Why? Because examine all those times I used the names John and Sarah. If I keep writing, John, John, John, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, guess what your brain is likely to tune out or keep stumbling over?

And that’s what this post is all about–provide you another tip on style by omitting said and ask as much as possible. Let’s redo the example.

John snapped his fingers. “I know, let’s go to the movies!”

Sarah lifted a hand to her mouth. “But we’re not allowed. It’s against God’s law!”

“We never get to have any fun.”

“We could just go over to those bushes and have sex.”

“Sure!”

In the last example, I’ve picked up the pacing on this and used a little body language to instead of a dialogue tag. Second, I eliminated the dialogue tags in the last three lines.

So how does this help you? Here’s how this stylistic approach can improve your writing.

It strengthens your showing, not telling. What did you think of when John snapped his fingers and then said, “I know, let’s go to the movies!”? He hit upon an idea is what most of you will say, but some of you will have a different opinion, and that’s fine.

Since our brains are trained to ignore the words said and ask, just get rid of them anyways. Use them sparingly, but for the most part, you don’t need them. Warning: you don’t want to get yourself into “talking-bubble-head-syndrome”. You do need to show who is talking. Here is an example:

Samdel patted his rider’s coat, lifted out the lapel, retrieving a cigar. “What were you saying, girl?”

“I hate it when you smoke those thrice-damn things around me!”

“Huh. A demon said that to me once.”

You know right off that Samdel is the first person who started this part of the conversation with the narrator telling he’s fishing out a cigar. Then, we know whomever he’s talking to responds, and then he says something back.

Now, when does this not work really well? When you have three or more people involved in conversation. Still, you can eliminate a great deal of said and ask by utilizing your prose to indicate actions from all your characters, but if you need to move rather quickly, you’re better served by using said and ask to ensure your reader doesn’t get confused or lost in the conversation. Another problem some writers have created when using this method is “floating heads” or “talking-bubble-head-syndrome”, and I covered that topic in an earlier post.

In short, here’s a tip on honing in a stylistic choice to remove mundane words and help your prose with more showing than telling.

Happy writing!