A Wordplayer's Manifesto
Before delving into the articles below, we suggest you take a few moments to read the wonderful Wordplayer's Manifesto written by author K.M. Weiland (and brought to our attention on Facebook by Gods of Justice author Dayton Ward). Read it, print it and put it near your computer. They are truly inspirational words to write -- and live -- by.
Basic Tips, Rules and Suggestions for New Writers
The following are tips to help aspiring (and veteran) writers create stronger, more entertaining stories. They are provided by the editors of Cliffhanger Books. To jump to each article, click on the following links:
Writing Short Stories (Why and How)
by Senior Project Editor, Kevin Hosey
(reposted from CrazzySharon's Boot Camp Study Group)
Hello, everyone. Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in your group. I hope some of you find my input useful.
First off, let's talk about short stories in general. Currently, I am jumping back and forth between two novels I'm writing (one horror and one sci-fi). While I love working on full-length books, short stories will always be my passion. I love writing them, and I love reading them. As a writer, they give me the opportunity to write about different genres and characters within a shorter span of time.
They're also a great way to break into the fiction market quickly. I'm a bit of a procrastinator. In fact, my wife asked me to take out the trash two hours ago. So while novels can take up to a year or longer to finish (in most cases), I can write and submit a short story in a month or less (if there's nothing good on TV, that is). That means I can have several works (hopefully) published by the time my first book is accepted and released.
Also by establishing my name in the market through short stories, it will help open doors when I'm sending out queries for my novels. That's because most publishers are more willing to listen to you if you're already published.
Short stories are also a great way to introduce characters you've been thinking about using in a novel. I just edited a collection of paranormal romance stories called Paramourtal. Two of the authors in the book wrote about characters they plan to use in future novels. Including them in Paramourtal first will help them test the waters and gauge public reaction to them. If readers like the characters, the authors will forge ahead with the novel. If readers don't, authors can revise or drop those characters.
On the flip side, if one of more of your published novels is successful, short stories help keep popular characters in front of the public eye between books. One of my favorite modern fictional characters is Repairman Jack from a series of mystery books by F. Paul Wilson. Every once in awhile Wilson will also publish a Jack short story to keep his fans' interest satiated while he's finishing his next novel.
Another reason why I enjoy short stories is they help develop my ability to write full-length novels. After all, a novel is basically a series of short stories that work together to tell a more elaborate story. By working to write a short story that tells a believable tale, it helps me practice writing each chapter of a book.
Okay, enough about WHY you should write short stories. Now lets talk about HOW.
I'm sure you've discussed the fundamentals of developing characters, plots, locales, etc. in this forum, so I won't spend time on that. Instead, I'll focus on the challenges of applying those rules to a VERY limited amount of space. So grab your crowbar, a can of grease and let's proceed.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. If you're going to try writing short stories, put those three words on a piece of paper and tape it to your computer. It is the single most important aspect of writing effective short stories you will ever learn. (BTW, I would have used the full acronym "K.I.S.S.," but the last time I did that Gene Simmons made me pay him royalties.) Short stories must take elements of a well-written novel and "squish them into a teeny-tiny living space" (to paraphrase my second favorite genie). That can be a curse or a blessing, depending on whom you talk to. I find it very exciting. Then again, shiny objects tend to draw my attention too.
Short stories vary in length. Usually they run between 2,500 to 9,000 words. After the 9,000 mark, they lean more toward novellas. Also a few markets accept stories shorter than 2,500 words. One is called Flash Fiction, which has a limit of a thousand words or less. It's very challenging to write an effective story within that framework, but it's also fun to try. To see examples of flash fiction, check out one of my favorite sites: http://www.365tomorrows.com. Speaking of challenging, one of my published stories is only 25 words(!) long. It's part of a new collection called Hint Fiction from W.W. Norton Publishing.
No matter what length story you need to write, keep in mind that you should never write your story to fit the word limit the very first time. Like with novels, let your creative subconscious take over and flow. Write, write, write until you feel you have a complete story. For example, on a story with an 8,000-word limit, my first draft will generally have 16,000 to 20,000 words. Then I go back and edit it down to the exact word limit. Just make sure you don't lose your characters or important plot points along the way.
LIMIT YOUR STORY. While the story within a novel can last for years and incorporate several subplots, locations and characters, you don't have that luxury in a short story. Keep your time span brief. Focus on one plot, and keep it at one, two or three main characters at the most. Otherwise, you may not fully develop any of them effectively.
MAKE EACH WORD COUNT. Since you're limited to a specific number of words, make sure every one is there for a reason. I realize writers love to include detailed, creative descriptions to bring the reader into their world. But in a short story, that's the first thing you need to jettison. Don't spend precious space describing the beauty of a sunset or how majestic a castle looks when you should be using that space to move the plot along. Readers won't care how something looks if they have no idea where the story is going. Describe just enough to get the point across, then move on. Also make the Thesaurus your friend. Don't use three or four words when you can use one.
DIALOGUE. The rule above goes for dialogue too. Also limit how many characters speak at one time. Some publishers will limit the number of lines per story, as well as the number of words. So if you have different characters getting into long bouts of discussions, it may add more lines. Like descriptions, have your characters say what they need to say to get the point across, then move on.
POV. I always write in third person, especially in my novels. I know that first-person POV is accepted these days, but I find that hard to maintain in a novel. After all, it's difficult to tell an entire 100,000-word story when you're only able to observe events from one viewpoint. Well, it's difficult to do it in an interesting way. Short stories are different. Since you're usually focused on one plot and one character, first-person POV can work just fine. In fact, sometimes it even helps the story.
READ, READ, READ. Like novels, one of the best ways to learn how to write short stories is to read them. I love reading them almost as much as I love writing them. You should do the same. And make sure you take a look at how each author incorporates the rules and suggestions listed above. Before you know it, you'll be out signing books and hobnobbing at cocktail parties.
Well, that's it for my sage guidance. But before I go, I'd like to add one final bit of advice to the aspiring writers here: SUBMIT, SUBMIT, SUBMIT. AND THEN SUBMIT AGAIN.
If you tend to hesitate to submit your work because you're nervous about rejection or possible negative feedback, or if for some reason you feel you aren't as talented as the authors who have actually been published, perish the thought. I discovered something a long time ago -- the main difference between you and published authors is they sent their work out into the world. Being published is basically 10% talent and 90% luck. You know you're talented, but you can only be lucky if you're in the right place at the right time. After all, publishers can't publish you if they don't know you exist.
Today you can submit your work literally to thousands of places -- online and print -- so NEVER stop doing it. Keep writing and keep submitting. Even if it gets rejected, rework it and send it to another publisher. I never stop submitting a rejected story because I hate wasting my hard work. The last thing I'm going to do is toss it in a lonely drawer and leave it there to wither.
Also I'm a bit of a late starter. I've been writing all my life (short stories, novels, screenplays, speeches, marketing copy), But I've been focusing on my marketing career for so long I didn't begin sending out my fiction until a few years ago. Luckily, some of my stories were published fairly quickly. So, if you're like me and didn't get into the writing game in your younger years, don't be discouraged. It's never too late.
Have a great day. And good luck!
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Avoiding Writing Pitfalls
by Evelyn Welle, Co-editor of Paramourtal
Pittfall #1: POV
Read Before Writing:
After reading several short story submissions, I want to share content and style writing tips with Cliffhanger Books' prospective authors. You'll learn how to make your fiction come alive, flow better, be easier to read and satisfy your audience more.
You may be tempted to write like you, the author, are summarizing a story you heard. Maybe you think you can address your audience directly as "you." Perhaps you want to use the old-fashioned style of an omniscient narrator telling the story from every character's point of view at the same time. Or you might think you can reveal everything a mobile movie camera sees from every angle and hears in multiple locations including everyone's voice-over thoughts.
So you won't feel alone, I used to write according to my last two statements. Through research and practice, I've updated my writing style. Read on to discover the current method of one character's POV per scene.
Limiting yourself to one point of view at a time may seem confusing because you've read books with omniscient POV and narrators. Most have old publication dates before POV style changed. If you've read a recent book by a prolific famous author, he or she may still be using those outdated practices. While a new writer views this as unfair, a well-established author gains the right to break POV rules by sustaining a substantial fan base. And some publisher's today still allow omniscient POV.
At Cliffhanger Books, we believe using a narrator distances readers from feeling a real emotional connection with characters. So for our submissions, please adhere to the following single-POV-per-scene rules.
Third person is the most versatile and prevalent POV because you can get into the heads of multiple characters. But write in just one person's POV per scene. If that's a challenge, realize that you're used to this is real life when you interact with others. As the POV character in your life, you don't know what others are thinking. But as an author, you can experience someone else's POV in the next scene. Putting yourself in one character's place per scene will help you reveal more senses, thoughts and reactions genuinely.
Writing in first person may make you think you are the "I" character, so you can interject your own opinions into the story. Instead, remain in that person's POV. You may be tempted to write as he or she would in a diary. But stay in the moment instead of summarizing what happened earlier.
Become each POV person's eyes, ears and senses. Mention only what he or she can see, hear, taste, smell and touch. That means this character can't describe his or her own appearance. Don't paint a word picture of what he or she sees in a mirror. That's so overdone. Only another POV person in a separate scene can notice another's appearance. Don't mention things the POV character can't see behind him or in another room. Likewise, don't describe what he or she can't hear while asleep or in a different room.
Besides the five senses, use the sixth sense of perception. Especially in a romance, readers want to know what the POV character thinks and feels. But don't include anything that wouldn't be running through his or her mind in that exact moment. Some paranormal characters get to have extra senses and powers, so get creative.
Instead of head hopping (switching between POVs in the same scene), the POV character can guess what everyone else thinks. Facial expressions, body language and tone of voice may reveal what's in others' minds and hearts. Writing as the POV character, you may describe another's appearance and say, "He/She seemed sad." But don't include anyone else's thoughts or observations in the same scene.
Write in past tense, but don't fall into the trap of sounding like you're retelling a story you heard. Show; don't tell. Keep the POV character in the moment in every scene -- even when thinking or remembering. Such immediacy helps readers feel like they're experiencing the story as it happens. Showing scenes as they occur is far more interesting and exciting than reporting what happened long ago. This approach allows readers to feel a stronger emotional connection with your characters. Since you know what's going to happen, be careful not to let a character give something away before it transpires.
Pitfall #2: Characters
For your story to ring true and hold your audience's interest, you must create well-rounded, believable characters who are expressive and evolve. Some submissions we've read approached characterization in limited ways. The following advice will help you reveal your characters' personalities more so readers will connect with them better.
One main couple and a few more minor characters integral to their relationship are enough for a short story. A large cast of extras who aren't part of the plot will overwhelm readers. We'll forget about ones who crop up seldom or appear just at the beginning and/or end. Give characters distinguishing names, appearances and personalities. You'll confuse readers if you use such similar names as Rob, Rod and Ron or if multiple characters look or talk alike.
If you use an androgynous name, find an inconspicuous way to indicate if that character is male or female early. Also indicate each character's age bracket if not exact number. Mentioning someone's in college or has been working a certain number of years gives readers a general idea.
Not Introducing Characters
Find an appropriate way to introduce every character's full name as he or she enters the story. Provide each person's occupation or pertinent personal information early. Readers need to understand his or her function and relationship to others. But don't state these facts like a narrator summarizing backstories. Work these details in subtly through thoughts and dialogue. Several stories I read had one or more characters who would have been confusing if I hadn't already learned specifics from synopses. Make sure your story stands on its own without that summary.
In third person, don't use "he," "she" or "they" for the first reference in any scene. Establish the POV character by using that name first. After that, switch to "he" or "she" because this character wouldn't refer to him or herself by name. Exception: Use the name as needed to differentiate between two characters of the same sex in the same scene. Don't describe the POV character as "the handsome doctor" or "the voluptuous redhead" because he or she wouldn't describe him or herself that way. Think as the POV character when you write his or her thoughts.
Introducing the POV character in first person can be awkward. I read some stories where I thought the unidentified "I" character was the opposite sex for several paragraphs or pages. That's a basic fact readers need to know up front, so clear up that confusion. Don't address readers by stating, "My name is ...." The POV character wouldn't think that way. But he or she can make that type of introduction when meeting someone new. Or have someone else call the "I" character by name at the beginning. Otherwise, we'll wonder who it is and if it's male or female.
Without adequate conflict, your story won't move forward, be interesting or keep readers wondering what will happen next. A tale that starts and ends with a happy couple on an even keel is a dull read. The two main characters need flaws and must grow as individuals before they can become a couple. Or they may be a former or current pair facing a challenge or crisis. Include some obstacle or conflict that keeps them apart and makes their future uncertain.
Your audience will keep reading to discover if they find love. Use the plot to overcome the dilemma or hindrance to bring them together by the end. You may opt for a tragic ending if their romance progressed before it.
Emotional Connection Missing
In every romance sub-genre including paranormal, the power of the heart helps fuel the main characters. That's also one element that entices readers. But if you tell instead of show, your audience won't develop an emotional connection with your characters. And we'll think your couple doesn't feel it either. So don't report what characters do or let them rely on logic alone. Show us how they feel about what they and others do and say.
To make one-dimensional characters come to life, include heartfelt facial expressions, physical reactions and verbal responses. Don't state that his touching words overwhelmed her with joy. Have her act that way (smile, sigh, hug or kiss him, say he made her feel special, etc.). When she reveals her innermost thoughts and emotions in her POV, readers feel them too. This also is true from the male's perspective in his POV scenes.
Don't let a character profess love or propose prematurely. Readers will feel cheated if you skip over the progression of a budding romance. If we haven't seen their attraction grow into a serious relationship, we won't believe this sudden leap forward. We need to feel and understand why they want to be together. If we don't, we won't care what happens to them. Readers want to get caught up in the gripping emotions along with the characters.
Think as the current POV character as you write. Go beyond describing what he or she sees and hears. Add tastes and smells in addition to how people and things feel to the touch. Make those details unique to each character. Then go deeper inward and delve into the POV character's heart and mind. Flush out the characterization by using a wide range of senses for a richer, more personal and well-rounded portrayal. Readers will develop a personal investment in multi-dimensional characters who emote from within in dialogue, thoughts and actions.
Pitfall #3: Common Mistakes
Forgetting Your Goal
The goal of paranormal romance fiction writing is to engage and entertain readers with a unique story, enthralling human and supernatural characters and an intriguing plot that touches the heart and haunts the mind. Do this in a suspenseful style that's enjoyable to read, and you'll hold their attention. But if you include outdated elements or novice mistakes, you'll minimize the chance of your audience finishing and liking your story. Read on to learn how to avoid common writing pitfalls and please your audience.
To write a story about a paranormal entity, you do research to describe its special traits and powers. But if you interrupt a scene of action or dialogue to insert one or more paragraphs of description or facts, that's info dump. Reporting the history of vampires or the powers of witches in the middle of an ongoing scene brings it to a screeching halt.
An out-of-context summary changes the tone, voice and focus, detracting from what's happening in the present. When you digress, you stop writing as the POV character and start sounding like a narrator explaining a supernatural being's abilities. Worst of all, this narrative pauses your characters' interaction. The transitions before and after an info dump usually are awkward because the forced middle section takes readers out of the scene. None of this helps your audience keep its place in your story.
If you need to include some of those details, incorporate them through the POV character's thoughts, dialogue and actions. Make sure that character really would think your exact words at that very moment so you don't switch to a narrator-type voice.
You have a lot of information you want readers to know about your characters. But be careful how you present it. Years ago, an author used a narrator to summarize a character's backstory. A long narrative might not have a setting or time period. It was a pre-story historical recap with countless facts and details. The non-character narrator would summarize/report/explain someone's relationships and what had happened in that character's life before the story began.
A form of info dump, unloading anyone's past over paragraphs or pages prevents the scene and story from moving forward. Read the short example below. Then follow the advice to write as the POV character, and you'll avoid this second technique that brings the present scene to a screeching halt.
"Sam Baker grew up in Boston and earned a Harvard law degree. He joined a prominent legal practice in New York City where he met Jill Hewitt. When he hadn't proposed after three years of living together, she moved to London. He hasn't dated since." This boring recitation of past facts devoid of emotion sounds like a narrator imparting Sam's backstory simply for the audience's benefit. As the POV character, Sam knows his own history. So he wouldn't summarize his life in his mind like an uninvolved outsider. You must keep all his thoughts believable.
The mark of a great modern fiction writer is devising artful ways to sneak in relevant past details without sounding like a narrator proclaiming them to get readers up to date. Sprinkle backstory snippets periodically through the POV character's thoughts, memories and dialogue in subtle ways. Tease your readers by allowing a feeling, caring POV character to reveal ongoing tidbits of his personal life in genuine ways. And you'll hook them until the end.
Current writers don't use the flashback as much as our predecessors did. A long diversion to the past stops the momentum of the in-the-moment scene and forestalls the progression of your entire story. But if someone really needs to flash back to his or her past, keep it short. No one can recall a lengthy decades-old conversation word for word or what everyone wore and did.
The flashback works best when a character is alone with his or her own thoughts. Or instead of replaying a pre-story scene, have the character use in-the-moment memories and thoughts to make decisions about his or her life. Like info dump and telling backstory, the flashback puts the brakes on the driving force of your story. So keep it brief if you can't present that scene in the present. Transitions before and after a flashback may sound awkward, so make sure readers can follow the shift back and forth in time.
Before including a flashback with two characters, realize how the scene plays out in the present. The one reliving an earlier time in his or her head for pages appears to ignore the other. This puts any interaction between them on hold. So this is the third way you can bring the current situation to a screeching halt. While one reflects, the other is bored or worse because nothing is happening in the present.
Unless you want to portray the daydreamer as insensitive, this type of flashback is a poor choice. If the lost-in-the-past character treats the other as invisible for a long time, the neglected person shouldn't be in that scene. You're better off keeping the action and conversation moving. Try turning the memories the flashback generates into dialogue. If the character can't reminisce aloud in conversation, he or she should be somewhere in seclusion to reflect alone.
Setting and Time Period Vagueness
Establish the setting and time period early in your story. Make any changes clear at the beginning of each subsequent scene. If you use an actual place, make sure all references are accurate. And just because you know a real setting well, don't assume all readers will too. Years ago, novels began with lengthy descriptions of the setting long before any action or dialogue. Today, describing characters' surroundings isn't as important as their interactions and relationships. Every single scene requires a setting. Even in a short scene when someone is thinking or remembering, place your character somewhere specific at a particular time.
If you stated in a 2009 story that a 25-year-old character was born in 1984, the math doesn't add up in 2010 or later. Instead of specifying a year, supply current references like cell phones, internet, satellite TV, etc. to indicate modern times. For historical periods, mention outdated things like corsets, oil lamps or Model Ts. Work in the month or season directly or through weather references. Unless you invent a new universe, realism will resonate with readers.
Pitfall #4: Style
Minimizing the Importance of Style
You may reduce the impact and likability of a great story idea by being lax in its execution. If your unpolished style makes readers try too hard to figure out what you're expressing, you may lose them. Follow basic style, grammar and punctuation rules to create prose that's easier to read and understand.
Too Many Elements in One Paragraph
Cramming too much in one paragraph has been a big problem in many submissions we've read. This can confuse readers. Separate elements to simplify interpretation for your audience. People will give up if they can't figure out who's talking, thinking and acting.
Put each person's dialogue in a separate paragraph.
Limit descriptions of a character's thoughts, actions or observations in his or her dialogue paragraph. Put long details of each of these three elements in separate paragraphs.
Never include one character's thoughts, actions or observations in someone else's dialogue paragraph.
Attribute dialogue occasionally.
Shorten too-long paragraphs. A page with just one or two excessively long paragraphs looks like a daunting task for the reader.
Style, Grammar and Punctuation Mistakes
Change scenes after a time lapse in the present, when moving to different location and when changing POV.
Strive for a balance between dialogue, actions, thoughts, feelings and observations.
Don't mention anything that you don't tie up by the end.
Characters need to react to what others say and do.
In third person, don't use "I" when expressing a character's thoughts. That's clear in that POV.
Don't follow someone's thoughts with: , she thought. That's clear in her POV.
Divide run-on sentences into easier-to-digest sections. Don't just add a comma and keep on going for multiple lines.
I saw lots of subsequent sentences starting with the same word. Repetitious words and sentence structure make your writing sound stilted.
Watch out for passive voice. Things don't just happen; someone or something has to enact them. Readers feel a stronger connection when characters behave, relate and think actively.
Subjects and verbs must agree. Make sure a plural noun doesn't have a singular verb or vice versa. Don't refer to one person as "they."
None of these words end in an "s": toward, backward, forward, upward, downward, anyway.
Don't write that a character's "eyes" darted, bounced, peered, cut, etc. Use "gaze" instead so eyeballs aren't flying around.
Replace "alright" with "all right."
Don't end a sentence with a preposition.
Limit incomplete sentences to an occasional dialogue comment or thought. ("No problem.", "Will do.", "Never again.") Note: A complete sentence (independent clause) has both subject and verb.
When you combine two independent clauses in one sentence, separate them with: , and/but. (Holly opened the door, and she screamed.)
But to join an independent clause and a dependent one in one sentence with and/But omit the comma. (Holly opened the door and screamed.)
A dependent clause requires a comma before an independent one. (When Holly opened the door, she screamed.)
An independent clause must precede and follow a semi-colon. (Holly opened the door; she screamed.)
Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Place other punctuation according to construction.
Wrong dialogue punctuation style: "I'm glad." He said. Change to one sentence: "I'm glad," he said.
Missing comma when addressing people: "Hi Tom." Change to: "Hi, Tom."
Don't add or omit punctuation arbitrarily. Search the web for help with any other questions I haven't answered in these tips.
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Writing for Paranormal Romance Fans
by Evelyn Welle, Co-editor of Paramourtal
NOTE: We offered the following advice for writers submitting for our first para-rom anthology, "Paramourtal." But much of it also applies to other types of fiction.
Make Us Care and Feel
Some people who write paranormal romance stories convey the paranormal aspect better than the romantic one. So here are more details to improve your writing. A unique story idea and inventive paranormal figure aren't enough to satisfy readers. For us to identify with them and their plight, characters need to come alive by exploring their feelings, reacting to others and emoting.
Romance fans want to feel an intense interpersonal connection with your characters as if they're real people we know. So, how do you make them and their love story resonate with readers? Tap into each POV (point of view) character's range of emotions, thoughts and feelings by using all of their senses and showing their vulnerabilities. Draw us into their love lives so we have a personal investment in their outcome.
Women comprise the main paranormal romance audience, so include romantic elements female readers crave. We read romance fiction to live vicariously through the female character's interaction with her male counterpart as they form a close, meaningful bond. You may accomplish this through the female or male's point of view. Or use a combination but with just one POV per scene.
Some readers assume the role of the heroine. We want the story to elicit emotional responses from tears to joy as we relive the thrill of falling in love again. So make us feel your characters' attraction, longing, yearning, heartbreak and sexual tension. Their blossoming emotional connection may culminate in some form of physical fulfillment if possible for your paranormal entity. For our anthologies, we aren't interested in a story about unrequited or one-sided love that doesn't become a true romantic relationship.
Keep Us Reading
Use suspense to keep fans engaged and turning pages. Answer your audience's burning questions. When, where and how will two individuals become a couple? What will spark their relationship to develop into love? And what obstacle(s) will they overcome to be together? But how do you keep us invested in their story? Show; don't tell. Make that your mantra.
Stating that he kissed her doesn't make your story a romance. That's telling. You need to show how that liplock changed her life. We want to enjoy every delicious detail of their first kiss and touch. But write in just one character's point of view per scene. Use her thoughts and senses to show us how being close to him affects her emotionally and physically. He needs to express his feelings verbally too. Readers can't wait for him to say something touching or profess his love. Don't be embarrassed to reveal their innermost feelings in thoughts. Like the female character, your audience wants to relish how his devotion feels deep within.
Tempt Us with Intimate Scenes
Our PG-13 rating doesn't mean omit sex. If you want to include this element, write one or two love scenes to be appropriate for younger readers too.too. Make them tasteful and touching instead of erotic or graphic. Depending on your POV, at least one character should want and long for the other. Female fans will keep turning pages, waiting for them to share their first kiss. But readers want to experience desire and passion too. When they touch finally, focus on the heartfelt connection more than the physical act. We want to feel how being intimate strengthens their emotional bond.
Combine Paranormal with Romance
Don't add a paranormal entity to a romance story as an afterthought or nonessential character. Make it one of the lovers or the one who brings the couple together or hinders its union. If the supernatural character is not vital to the central love story, it has no place in your tale. Likewise, a romance tacked onto a paranormal story doesn't work. You need to weave these two elements together throughout your tale so it wouldn't work without either one.
Create a Satisfying Ending
If you write a story that stops before the romance begins, fast forwards past it or leaves the couple's relationship up in the air, you'll need to revise. After hanging in for pages, readers don't want to feel cheated by a disappointing or anticlimactic ending. A true romance carries us through the excitement of a new relationship as it grows into the expectation of lasting love. You may have an untraditional tragic ending if it follows a romantic progression and that alternative carries more impact. But remember always what readers want, and they will enjoy what you write.
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Tips for Submitting Paranormal Romance Stories
by Evelyn Welle, Co-editor of Paramourtal
NOTE: We offered the following advice for writers submitting for our first para-rom anthology, "Paramourtal." But much of it also applies to other types of fiction.
The following content and style pointers give our prospective authors an inside look at the story types we're seeking. If you're a seasoned wordsmith like I am, you probably don't need coaching on the basics. But your story will have a greater chance of acceptance when you follow these guidelines.
Writing and reading paranormal romance is captivating because the possibilities are endless, so be creative. We're looking for a variety of paranormal character types and writing tones. Make one character an otherworldly, magical, immortal, ghostly, undead or shape-shifting entity. Send us page-turners that are dark, ominous, foreboding, eerie, creepy, intriguing, mysterious, suspenseful, haunting, thrillers, heartwarming or even funny.
Make Your Story Stand Out
Give us an innovative take on an established paranormal character type.
Create an unfamiliar, fantasy or even a realistic setting.
Approach your love story from a fresh angle or motivation.
Write with a unique voice.
Hook fans in with an imaginative and perplexing plot that keeps them engaged until the end.
Use supernatural entities and happenings to enhance the plot and explore phenomena beyond the scope of traditional romance.
Evolve the romantic couple through a strong story line that takes readers on a startling and unpredictable journey.
Tip #1: Characters and POV
Lovers and Other Characters
The appeal of paranormal romance is the irresistible temptation of forbidden love, so invent distinctive characters who struggle to unite in unusual ways. You may feature any combination of these character types. At least one member of the main romantic couple may be paranormal, possess supernatural powers or appear to be otherworldly. A paranormal entity may use magical, metaphysical, immortal, etc. talents and ways to coax the couple to find love or make their union a challenge.
We want a variety of character categories including witches, warlocks, sorcerers, psychics, ghosts, spirits, vampires, werewolves, etc. But do your research so their appearances, powers and paraphernalia are credible and consistent. Or invent your own mysterious creature with bizarre abilities.
Focus on the main couple and perhaps a paranormal entity if one of the lovers isn't. Drop them into any setting and time period. Limit the number of minor characters to a few if needed. Give all characters specific and consistent personality traits, strengths, flaws, motivations and speech patterns to make them come alive.
Point of View
Your entire story may be in one character's point of view (third or first person). Or you may switch the POV from one character to another, but use only one per scene. Don't include multiple characters' thoughts in the same scene (head hopping). A POV character may guess what others are thinking or feeling from facial expressions, gestures, actions and reactions. Only describe a character's physical appearance when in another's POV. Make the point of view character an active participant -- not a narrator who's an observer (third-person omniscient). Avoid long flashbacks that stall the story from moving forward. Each POV character reveals feelings, emotions and introspective thoughts. Express all senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste and sometimes ESP.
Use dialogue to further your story and characterizations. Limit idle chitchat unless it reveals a character's personality. Focus mainly on plot-related conversation. Except for some professions, social stations and formal situations, most people talk in contractions. Keep the dialogue realistic and appropriate for each character. A contemporary rural Texas farm hand who dropped out of school wouldn't talk or think like a 1940-era New York college professor or a medieval English princess who's a witch. Read your story aloud to be sure dialogue sounds natural and your writing flows well.
Naming People and Places
After you think up character names and the title of your story, Google them. Change anything that already belongs to famous people or fiction. If you use names of real locations, you must be accurate in your descriptions. Or create a fictional setting, and enjoy the freedom to be inventive. But search fictional cities and named places to make sure they don't exist. If anything does, change it to something unique.
Tip #2: Story Structure and Plot
Constructing Your Tale
If you're a submitting author, this short story form overview will help you write your paranormal romance manuscript for our Paramourtal anthology. Though customized for this genre, these basic tips apply to all fiction writing for us and other publishers as well.
A concise, well-structured paranormal romance draws the reader in, compelling an emotional investment in the characters' dilemmas and outcome. You will need to keep the time frame brief for the limited length of a short story. Follow basic structure by including a beginning, conflict, climax or crisis and resolution or turning point.
Beginning: Introduce the main characters early by starting with dialogue or action instead of description. But have a balance of those three elements throughout your story. Use the first sentence or paragraph to set the mood and hook the reader's interest.
Conflict: In a romance, internal conflicts plague both the hero and heroine. The challenge is overcoming real or imagined reasons why neither can be with the other. Each also has an external conflict involving the situation that brought them together. Avoid a convoluted plot where their meeting and interaction seem forced.
Climax: The hero and heroine face and triumph over internal conflicts. Add a crisis or climax that makes each willing to give up something for the other. Each experiences some form of character growth to rise above their differences and enjoy a life together.
Resolution: Our name may be "Cliffhanger Books," but we want stories that end -- not ones that stop unfinished. By the end, readers want to know how the situation or characters changed and/or what obstacles they've overcome. Unexpected twists add shock value and depth if believable. But be sure to reveal any secrets and tie up all questions, problems and loose ends for a satisfying conclusion.
Show; Don't Tell
Reveal everything through the "Show; Don't Tell" rule of writing. Show the character's reaction (how she looked or behaved anxiously through fidgeting, pacing, etc.) instead of telling us, "She was anxious." Rather than summarizing a character's personality or background, reveal it through thoughts, observations and dialogue. Only include elements and details that are integral to the plot. Show how characters evolve by the end of your story.
Tip #3: Style and Grammar
Sloppy style, grammar, syntax and punctuation can cancel out an otherwise intriguing story's value. Following these rules will make your polished manuscript require fewer changes. That will improve your chance of acceptance in our upcoming anthologies as well as other publishers' books. You'll even find out why "it" and "there" are the two most misused words in the English language. Avoid these frequent mistakes to enhance your writing style today.
Pesky Style and Grammar Rules
In addition to enthralling ideas, well-written and edited stories follow basic grammar principles. While many style variations exist, Cliffhanger Books will follow those listed below for consistency throughout our anthologies. Correct typos, improper usage and passive voice before submission. MS Word will check spelling, grammar, style and punctuation, but so should you because it may be wrong. Ignore suggested changes if you know better or I've instructed otherwise.
In most cases, put dialogue, actions, observations and thoughts in separate paragraphs.
Write in complete sentences as a rule except for some one-word or brief dialogue/thoughts and occasionally for emphasis. You may interrupt dialogue/thoughts or leave them unfinished if you end the sentence by inserting the symbol special character Ellipsis with a final period or the Em Dash.
Alter the stilted pattern of starting subsequent sentences and paragraphs with the same word.
Avoid run-on sentences by splitting. You may start sentences with "And" or "But" when informality is appropriate.
The English language features so many wonderful words, why repeat the same ones? Use synonyms for variety.
Spell out all words including numbers, states and anything else you might abbreviate.
Use correct grammar unless a character's educational level or social station calls for inept expression, syntax, slang or regional dialect.
Refrain from repeating the same sentence structure. Alternate patterns for better flow. Use a subject-verb-object sequence for one sentence. Follow it with a dependent clause-independent clause separated by a comma.
Make passive voice active. Change "She was watched by the man" to "The man watched her."
Use "it" only as a pronoun with an antecedent as in: "She liked the music. It moved her." But if "it" doesn't mean anything, rewrite. Change "It was cold" to: "The temperature was cold." I know people talk this way. But with a little practice, you can break this bad habit by being specific.
"There" describes a place. If it doesn't, revise. Replace "There was music playing" with "Music was playing." Delete the unnecessary words and start with the subject. Change "There were too many choices" to "She had too many choices." Everyone else may use "there" inappropriately, but you can avoid that pitfall by being explicit.
Avoid "be" verbs. Replace them with vivid action verbs.
Watch out for misplaced modifiers and split infinitives. Change "He cautiously eyed her" to "He eyed her cautiously" and "She began to heartily laugh" to "She began to laugh heartily."
Use just one space, not two, between sentences in a paragraph.
If you separate one character's dialogue into two paragraphs, omit the close quote from the first paragraph.
Place commas and periods inside quotation marks.
A comma doesn't belong before the last "and" in a series or between dependent clauses.
Use a comma between independent clauses (each has a subject and a verb).
If you insert the symbol special character Ellipsis at the end of a sentence, add a final period.
Insert the symbol special character Em Dash to separate thoughts instead of using one or two hyphens.
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