Posted by: nancycurteman | November 28, 2017

Backstory Should Move a Plot Forward, Not Backward

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As authors, we know backstory is essential to good characterization. We also know we need to keep our stories moving toward a climax and solution. Managing these two goals is sometimes difficult. Backstory should move our novel plots forward, not backward. This seems a bit like an oxymoron, but it can be done. As authors we need to consider the following:

What is backstory? Backstory relates to events that have happened before the novel begins.

Why is backstory necessary? Backstory is necessary to explain why a character has a specific motivation or mindset. Backstory can strengthen a reader’s emotional connection with a character. It can establish setting as well.

How do we know when we need to insert backstory into our novel and how much? If it’s essential to our plot, we need it. Insert no more backstory than is absolutely necessary to make characters and plot understandable.

How can we unobtrusively insert backstory into our story?
• Write backstory without leaving a novel’s present time.
• Backstory must always be related to the action in the scene.
• Make sure it exerts an active influence on characters and plot. If a character is terrified of heights, don’t write a backstory about her favorite toy.
• Keep backstory inserts as short as possible.
• Resist hopping back and forth between the past and the present.
• Sneak backstory in as character memory, overheard conversations, chance encounters, old photos or letters, scents, sights and tastes. Think about experiences that bring back past memories.
• Use a person or attitude to create a reason for adding backstory.
• Use some flashbacks and character musings in which to couch backstory.
• Use dialogue rather than narration when possible.
• Spread backstory throughout the novel. Don’t dump it all into the first chapter. Reveal backstory only at the time that best serves the story.

By using their natural creativity, authors can use backstory to move novel plots forward, not backward.

More Tips:

Backstory: 10 things a Mystery Writer Should Know

4 Killer Backstory Mistakes Mystery Authors Make

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Posted by: nancycurteman | November 11, 2017

How to End a Chapter in a Mystery Novel

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The end of a chapter in a mystery novel is as critical as the beginning of a chapter. It’s important to make the end of the chapter as enticing as the chapter’s opening lines. The beginning lines of a chapter are meant to lure readers to read further in the chapter. The lines at the end of the chapter are meant to lure the reader into future chapters.

The end of a chapter has double duty. It needs to provide some closure on an event previously developed in the story or in the chapter while at the same time it must raise reader tension about the next challenging event to follow. Chapter endings should tie together story elements from previous chapters.
They also act as transitions between what has happened in the chapter and what may happen in the next chapter. There are many ways to end chapters that will entice readers’ to avidly continue reading. Consider some of these kinds of chapter endings:

  • End your chapter in the heart of the action.
    • Cliffhangers are terrific enders in mystery novels.
    • End with hooks that pull readers into the next chapter.
    • Hold your readers’ interest with unexpected twists in those last lines.
    • Use anticipation and fear to end your chapter.
    • Introduce new problems or a new character.
    • Reveal something surprising about a character’s personality or motives.
    • Introduce a new conflict or reveal something that changes readers’ opinion about a character.
    • Have your character grapple with what he will do about a coming conflict.
    • Reveal a devastating secret.
    • End with a question.

No matter what kind of chapter ending you choose, the last lines must hint of something to come without giving it away.

More tips:

How to End a Mystery Novel
How to Write Endings for Mystery Novels
8 Questions You Should Answer in Your Story Resolution

Posted by: nancycurteman | October 29, 2017

How to Increase Reviews of Your Novel

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In general, authors seek as many book reviews as possible. The jury is still out on the actual impact of book reviews on sales. Some reader polls have indicated that only a small percentage of shoppers in brick and mortar stores look first at reviews before purchasing a book. They first check the cover and then turn to the back of the book to learn about content. After that they may check reviews.

If your book is selling on line, Amazon places more emphasis on reviews that include one to five-star ratings. However, Amazon has had issues with untrustworthy book reviews. Some authors pay third parties to write reviews which may or may not be legitimate.

In any event, it is probably a good idea to know how to increase reviews of your novel not just to boost sales, but to learn from the honest feedback provided by readers and peers. Honest reviews can help you grow as a writer. Here are some ways to increase reviews of your novel.

  • Use social media. Check out book blogger sites. These sites are usually maintained by avid readers who will provide good feedback. If they review your book, provide a link to their sites from your own site. Consider blog tours and online author interviews.
  • Use your website or blog site to encourage reviews. Let your readers know how much you appreciate reviews and how important they are. Make it easy for them to do a review by providing some basic “how to” instructions and a by adding a link to your sale page.
  • Solicit and accept speaking engagements, library visits, media events. Offer to present a class in your local community college. Offer free ebooks to the first five people who will do a review.
  • Target top reviewers on Amazon. Go to the author pages of writers in your genre. Click on reviews of their books to find the reviewer’s Amazon profile. Look for contact info and send the reviewer a query noting that you read some of their reviews and really enjoyed them. Ask if they would consider reviewing one of your novels.

Here are a couple of caveats. Never trade reviews and don’t pay for customer reviews. Both are against Amazon’s terms of service and could get you kicked off the site.

Book reviews are certainly useful. It is worth the effort to try my suggestions for increasing reviews of your novels.  Here are some examples of reviews I’ve received (scroll down to product details). Please share any other ideas you might have come across.

 

More Tips

14 Suggestions for Creating a Marketing Plan
Free Book Marketing Using Email

How to Market Your Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | October 21, 2017

Beware of Authorial Intrusion

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“Beware of authorial intrusion” is a cautionary comment often repeated by editors and publishers. What is authorial intrusion? How can an author detect it? How can writers avoid it?

In authorial intrusion also known as narrative intrusion the writer projects herself into the story and speaks directly to the reader. Authorial intrusion was a common literary device in 20th century literature. Novelists like Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot and others used it extensively. It is much less popular in contemporary writing. In fact, it is considered interruptive and even annoying today because it upsets the rhythm of the story, upsets readers and upsets characters.

Writers need to identify authorial intrusion stories. Here are a few examples of it.

  • Blatant evidence of author research can bleed into the novel in the form of information characters would not know—scientific names of plants or animals, history, technical terms.
  • Word choices that are those of the author and not the characters’ are intrusive. Fancy, highfalutin vocabulary or purple prose show off the author’s Ph.D. but ruin the story.
  • Judgmental statements about a story person’s character or obvious revelation about an author’s values, positions or personal causes interfere with a reader’s enjoyment of the story.

Here are some strategies writers can use to cast authorial intrusion from their novels:

  • First, and probably critical, authors need to set completed novels aside for a few weeks to created needed distance between themselves and their masterpieces. Then return to the story as a reader rather than an author.
  • Next, edit the book for specific items such as ten dollar words, author opinions, over abundant evidence of author research and author “preaching.”
  • Finally, read the novel as a story and mark any words or sentences that pull you from the plot.

Authorial intrusion is an outdated literary device. Time for authors to step into the twenty-first century and purge their writing of authorial intrusion.

More tips:

How to Use Narrative Summary in Fiction
4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.”

 

 

 

Posted by: nancycurteman | October 4, 2017

Vikings in North America: Fact or Myth

Vikings were early great explorers. Many stories surround their exploits as well as questions. One much-debated question relates to whether they ventured as far as North America. I will share some archaeological information related to this question and you can decide for yourself whether Vikings in America is fact or myth.

Around the year 1000 Vikings purportedly landed in a place called L’Anse aux Meadows in New Foundland. L’Anse aux Meadows comes from the French L’Anse-aux-Médusa or Jellyfish Cove. The region is believed to have been the settlement established by Leif Erickson approximately five centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

How did this happen? As Europe emerged from the “Dark Ages,” stories began to circulate about a land of plenty across the Atlantic—a place called Vinland, land of wine or land of wild grapes. The stories originated in about 985 from Bjarni Herjolfsson, an Icelandic trader. He was on his way to Greenland, got lost in a storm, was blown off course and sailed along the Atlantic coastland of a new land we now call North America. Leif Erickson, son of Eric the Red, heard the stories and set out on an expedition of thirty men and women to explore lands to the West and possibly find the new region.

Erickson’s expedition came first to an icy land he called “Helluland” or Land of Flat Rocks. Not the land of plenty he sought. He sailed further south and encountered a forested land he called “Markland” or Land of Forests. Still not the idyllic land he’d hoped for. He continued south until he came upon a warmer, more hospitable area where he constructed “Leifsbuoir” or Leif’s Camp. He believed this area was Vinland. The wild grapes for making wine and the abundance of coveted hardwood forests made it a very attractive land to the Vikings.

Artifacts indicate the settlement consisted of sailors, farmers, a blacksmith, women and slaves. Leif’s family members including three brothers and one sister, Freydis, led expeditions to Vinland before abandoning the settlement. The settlement only lasted for about three years.

There were three basic reasons for abandoning the settlement. The distance from Greenland was about 2200 miles, too far for easy transport of goods back to Greenland. Second, the Greenland settlement consisted of only 500 people, too few to spare settlers to establish and maintain a splinter colony. Finally, the Vikings were outnumbered by the indigenous people and when trade with the natives turned to warfare the Vikings knew it was futile to try to win any battles and decided to abandon the project.

The evidence that the Vikings did reach North America. What do you think, fact or Myth?

Vinland was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1969.

 

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 27, 2017

8 World Famous Peasant Foods

Exploring new food experiences is one of the joys of traveling. There is such a wonderful variety of gourmet delights that one can’t possibly hope to experience all of them. So, I’d like to suggest that one consider tasting 8 world-famous peasant foods as a starting point instead of focusing only on elegant chef-created fare. Peasant foods are the kinds of foods prepared for family meals throughout the world. Here are some examples of popular peasant foods.

India’s Masa la dosa is a simple crêpe that encases mashed potatoes and is dipped in coconut chutney, pickles, and tomato-and-lentil based sauces.

Som tam from Thailand is a mixture of dried shrimp, peanuts, tomatoes, string beans and green papaya tossed in a sauce of tamarind juice, fish sauce and lime juice flavored with crushed garlic and chilies. Good with rice.

• The Polish love Pierogi-dumplings filled with all kinds of fillings from potatoes, sauerkraut, to meat or cheese topped with butter, sour cream or fried onions.

• While in Turkey, be sure to try Yalanci dolma, a mixture of rice, pine nuts, raisins and herbs wrapped in vine leaves.

Champ is a popular Irish dish. Mix mashed potatoes with spring onions, butter, salt and pepper. That’s all there is to this filling dish.

South Africans treasure their Bunny Chow.  They hollow out quarter loaves of bread, fill them with spicy curry and they’re ready to eat.

• In Canada almost every restaurant serves Poutine. Fatty but good. It consists of a stack of French fries smothered in cheese curds and rich brown gravy. If that’s not fat enough for you, they will add beef, pork and other accoutrements.

• On the leaner side is Goi cuon, a Vietnamese  dish consisting of pork, shrimp, and rice vermicelli wrapped in rice paper accompanied by a special Vietnamese sauce for dipping.

These are a few of the abundant world-famous peasant foods. If you have a favorite I would love to hear about it. Please share.

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 9, 2017

How to Use Social Media to Market your Novel

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Social media has become an important vehicle for authors to use to promote their novels. I know it’s a bit time consuming for busy writers, but it is one of the best ways to get in touch with your readers. Where to begin? Well, I found some excellent articles in a series taken from the Author Marketing Primer: A Quick Start Guide with Author Advice, a free eBook on Amazon. I will share some of these “how to” articles in my next few blog posts. Here is the first one:

Building a strong social media presence is challenging, and there are a lot of social media sites out there including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, just to name a few. New ones seem to pop up all the time, and the popularity of these sites also changes over time, so being social media–aware is a wise time investment for authors who want to build a following.

Key to maintaining your followers’ interest on social media are frequent interaction and updates. Inactive social media accounts don’t attract interest, so posting is crucial to keep you relevant and your book(s) top of mind with readers. The nature of what you post is also important. Readers will respond best to posts that are social, authoritative, and consistent in tone. Also, be sure to interact with your budding fans, keep your biggest fans engaged, and build relationships with other authors.

As you already know from writing your book, creating content from scratch takes time. If you’re struggling to find something new to post or you’re busy working on your next book, then consider sharing articles you think your audience will appreciate, or news and posts from fellow authors. Naturally, you can then ask these authors to promote your book on their social media accounts.

Here are some avenues for engaging your readers on social media:

  • Live Facebook or Twitter parties
  • Contests and giveaways
  • Finding beta readers
  • Posting articles that will resonate with your readers
  • Sharing fellow authors’ posts and joining with them in their promotional- and content-development efforts
  • Posting videos
  • Hosting “guest takeovers” where a character from your book becomes the person posting, or by inviting other authors to take over your social media channels
  • Celebrating other authors’ book launches

Before you publish your book, create some buzz on social media by announcing the impending launch on your social network, and then make a grand announcement (including links for your fans to easily navigate to your Amazon detail page) when the book becomes available for sale. You may also consider asking your social network to follow you using the Amazon Follow feature.

Promoting your milestones is an easy way to interact with your readers—if you’re excited, then they will be, too. A milestone is anything that is related to you and your writing. Milestones can occur at all stages of the marketing process and include:

  • Upcoming book-publication dates
  • Updates for books in progress
  • Reaching a specific number of Amazon customer reviews, or a particular star rating
  • Number of books sold
  • Upcoming book-cover reveals

If it’s not possible for you to stay on top of numerous social media platforms, then just stick with the ones that give you the widest reach. It’s better to have just one or two platforms where your readers can count on your reliable activity, rather than multiple accounts that you rarely update. If you need help managing multiple social media accounts, you might consider software that helps update multiple accounts from the same place.

Here’s a tip: create a content-scheduling calendar for yourself so that you can strategically plan the content you’re going to post, as well as when and where you’re going to post it. Doing so will help you avoid last-minute stress, as well as help ensure you’re posting regularly.

 

More Tips:

14 Suggestions for Creating a Marketing Plan
Free Book Marketing Using Email

How to Market Your Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | August 24, 2017

The Comma Conundrum

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 Most authors suffer from a condition I call Comma Conundrum. Symptoms of this ailment are basically three: Authors
1. add too many commas in their writing pieces.
2. add too few commas in their writing pieces.
3. add commas in the wrong places in their writing pieces.

Oscar Wilde described the Comma Conundrum well when he wrote:

“I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”

We all agree that commas are useful grammatical tools that help to keep our intended meanings clear. However, when commas are misused they can chop up sentences (overuse) or misinform meaning (under use) causing confusion, irritation and frustration to readers.

Overuse of commas is the most common symptom of Comma Conundrum. Using too many commas results in stilted, disjointed sentences. However, under use can result in serious misunderstandings as well. Consider this common example:
Let’s eat kids! vs. Let’s eat, kids!
Please, we are not cannibals.

Is there a cure for Comma Conundrum? Yes, but for most fiction writers it is not simple. Fiction writers tend to operate in the creative realm whereas grammarians may find it easier to commit complex rules to memory. Here is the solution most often offered. Just follow the grammatical rules. Easier said than done because many of these rules are somewhat complex filled with terms like coordinating conjunctions, independent clauses, appositives and dependent clauses. Yes, we all learned comma rules in school but when you’re in the middle of creating an exciting scene in your novel, you may not easily call to memory some of these rules.

Then what’s a workable solution. I can only suggest my method. I keep a list of  comma rules, along with their exceptions, in my writing folder. I consult it whenever there is the slightest doubt in my mind about a comma placement. You can find a multitude of sites about comma rules on the internet. Here is a link to the one I use. 13 Rules For Using Commas Without Looking Like An Idiot.

Try it. Maybe it will work for you.

More tips:
7 Ways to Make Your Writing Clear and Concise
6 Most Misused Punctuation Marks In Fiction Writing

Posted by: nancycurteman | August 10, 2017

7 Less Famous San Francisco Attractions

San Francisco is a tourist magnet. We all know about fabulous places like Fisherman’s Wharf, China Town, North Beach and Golden Gate Park to name a few of the city’s attractions. Of course visitors should experience these sites. However, San Francisco has some other sites that are well worth seeing. Here are a few of those less famous attractions.

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  1. The Moraga Steps also known as the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps is a staircase that was decorated with mosaics by more than 300 people. The goal was to create a sea to stars themed mosaic flowing up 163 step stairway. The steps are located on Moraga Street between 15th and 16th Avenue.
  2. The Lands End Labyrinth is located on the rocky, windswept shoreline within the Golden Gate National Recreation area at the mouth of the Golden Gate. The Labyrinth is constructed of stones laid in an outline following the classic seven-circuit Chartres Labyrinth. Traditionally labyrinths were designed to promote meditation and peace.
  3. The Wave Organ is a huge acoustic sculpture constructed of 25 PVC organ pipes of various lengths that plunge into the water of San Francisco Bay not far from the Marina. It is a musical instrument played by the changing tides of the Bay. The musical tones constantly change as the water moves in and out of the pipes.
  4. The San Francisco Columbarium is a beautiful neo-classical building with an art nouveau stained glass ceiling. The Victorian-era columbarium houses memorials of many famous local San Franciscans such as Chet Helms who brought Janis Joplin to California in the ‘60s. The Columbarium is located at One Loraine Court.
  5. The Golden Fire Hydrant was one of only a few fire hydrants th-1.jpeghooked up to a water supply during the 1906 earthquake fire. Located at the corner of 20th and Church Street the little fireplug single handedly provided the water that stopped the fire from spreading south of 20th Street. The fire hydrant is given a new coat of gold paint each year on April 18, the anniversary of the Earthquake.
  6. Boudin Bakery, located on Fisherman’s Wharf, is the home of the famous mother dough, the leavening base used to create the famous San Francisco sourdough bread. The bay area’s indigenous yeast and foggy climate produce the unique tangy bread. Here’s a little known fact about our sourdough: Every loaf of sourdough Boudin has produced for the last 160 years contains a bit of the company’s original yeasty dough.
  7. The Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park is the perfect place to communicate with the Bard. Wander under the iron archway over the brick pathway and browse a brick wall with plaques of romantic verses from Shakespeare’s writings. Life seems to stand still in the garden but an old sundial will remind you of the time.

Visit San Francisco’s celebrated tourist sites but try to make time to visit some of the less famous attractions. You’ll be glad you did.

More Tips:

5 San Francisco Activities Dear to San Franciscans
The San Francisco Village of Chinatown

North Beach: An Historic San Francisco Village
A Bushman in San Francisco?

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In a novel, the story resolution is much more complex than “The End.” It differs from the rest of the writing in the novel in that it is usually written in expository style with the goal of finishing up the story for the reader. It should not be too long nor should it be too short. It should neither be overly detailed nor too enigmatic. However it must tie up all the loose story threads. Here are eight questions you should consider answering when writing your story resolution.

  1. How did plot experiences change your major characters?
  2. Did your protagonist succeed in her goals?
  3. Did your protagonist fail to meet her goals? Why?
  4. What impact did the protagonist’s success or failure in her quest have on her?
  5. What impact did the protagonist’s adventures have on others close to her?
  6. Did she learn anything from her quest?
  7. Did her experiences result in any changes in her previous lifestyle?
  8. What might the future hold for your main characters?

Your story resolution is basically a short summary of what has happened in the story and the results as well as a very brief indication of what the future might hold.

More Tips:

How to End a Mystery Novel

How to Write Endings for Mystery Novels

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