Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What has Teaching Taught me?

From the past two years I have been teaching creative writing in college to degree students. Initially apprehensive as I had heard constant complains that nowadays students are more addicted to their cells than academics, I took up the job with a fair degree of anxiety hovering over my head.

 Before this, I had never taught anyone anything. Neither did I have the experience nor the confidence. Doubts constantly surfaced in my mind. Would I be able to teach them anything? Would I be able to discipline the students?

All this is now a thing of the past. I have adapted to my new role like a duck to water. Everyday my students teach me something new. Words that I had never heard before (words that my creative students have up conjured from their over active imagination) are thrown into assignments.

Most assignments hover at the doorstep of romance. Twilight has seeped into their collective conscious. My students are teaching me how to stretch my limited  resource of patience. I have constantly confessed that patience is not one of my better known virtues. My students are ensuring that it becomes my most  well- known trait.

One thing my students have taught me in abundance is getting critical with my own writing. Reading few assignments makes me aware of all the information dump yard that some students turn the stories into. And then there are the students who skip over the crucial details just to get closer to the end of the story. It’s obvious that they have rushed through their assignments just to get rid of my reminders about delayed assignments.

Teaching them has made me appreciative of all the creativity a tiny human brain possesses. Their excuses range from accidents to sudden tooth-aches while the hand hovering over the stomach makes me wonder whether it’s the tooth or the stomach causing all the problem.

I often urge them to exercise all the creativity while doing the assignments. Most students forget that I too studied in the same college. While the students have changed, the excuses have remained constant.

For those of you who are into teaching what have your students taught you? For those engaged in other professions what are the things that life or people around you  have taught you? We would love to hear about your learning experiences.

Friday, January 27, 2012

eCollegeFinder Writing Blog Award

Few days back, I received an email from Brittany Behrman asking me if I would accept nomination for my blog Rachna’s Scriptorium for the eCollegeFinder Writing Blog Award. Initially apprehensive, as I did not have the time to adhere to long winded rules and list of requirements, I emailed Brittany asking her about the rules for participation. When she emailed me back saying that I would not have anything much to do other than to just answer a few questions, I was thrilled. That should not be difficult I thought.

The Top Writing Blogs Award was created to provide students with a collection of helpful and encouraging blogs from authors, publishers, book reviewers, writing experts, and talented bloggers. They have included nominees that will inspire and teach their student readers to find their writing style and improve their skills, whether the students are writing an essay for Composition 101 or starting their first novel! Check out the nominees for Top Writing Blogs Award by clicking  on this link below.
I request my blog buddies to visit the site by clicking on the link below and voting for my humble little blog and also other blogs that you all like. All of us need your votes. Click here.

To cast your vote, check the boxes next to the writing blogs that you find to be the most valuable resources, then scroll to the bottom of the page and click “vote”.
The best  part is you can vote as many  times as you’d like before the end of the competition, February 3, 2012, 5 PM EST. Once the final vote has been cast, Top 3 Writing Blogs and the Writing Blog Award Finalists will be announced!

If you’d like to tweet about the competition, use the hashtag #ECFtopwriting (view the feed here: http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23ECFtopwriting)!

Thank you all in advance for your votes. I know that all of you will visit the site and cast your valuable votes for the blogs that you all love.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

At What Point should the Inciting Incident Occur?

Last year, when I  read in many blogs and writing craft books that the Inciting Incident ( the incident which changes the Main Character’s life or causes upheavals in his or her life) should occur as early as possible in a book, preferably in the first chapter, maybe even on the first page, had me extremely worried. Because in my book/s the Inciting Incident  occurs in the fourth chapter, though I have dropped hint of the changes or tremors my Main Character will undergo right on the first page.

The  writing craft books mention that the Inciting Incident is instrumental in snagging the readers’ attention and keeping them hooked on to the rest of the story wondering whether the Main Character will achieve his or her purpose.

On the basis of this theory I am sure my book will lose out, as I have a little world building and setting up the character’s background in the first 3 chapters.

When I came across a post by former  Literary Agent Nathan Bransford in which he talks about the need to have the Inciting Incident occur by the first 50 pages, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Nathan mentions that if the Inciting Incident takes longer than that to occur, then the readers’ attention will  wane and patience with the pace of the story will decline, and this does not augur well for the  story or the writer.

For me personally, I would like to know a little about the character, start caring for him or her before I am plunged deep into trouble along with the character. I need to see the character in his or her background before changes threaten him or her.

 I would like to ask you all, both as writers and readers, that at what point should the Inciting Incident occur. I am sure there is no ideal time; for each story the need for the Inciting Incident’s arrival is different. What do you all consider the correct time for the occurrence of the Inciting Incident, especially for Middle Grade fiction which I write? Please help me out by sharing your thoughts.

Friday, January 20, 2012

13 Elements of a Good Story

Many elements go into making a book  lovable and memorable. The reason we like  some books and  dislike  others  is not just because  of the writing style or the story, but for several other reasons.  I have read many not so great books only because I found the characters worthy of following. Unfortunately these characters were caught in a not so great story. Many other books  I  have read because I liked the way  the plot  twists  kept me on tenterhooks, though I disliked the language and  the writing style was ordinary.

For a book to make the cut, many elements must fall into place. The ones that instantly come to mind, I have listed below.

1.      A  Strong  Protagonist: who beckons the reader into his/her story and  makes them follow him/her page after page. The protagonist has to be likeable and has to have a few redeeming qualities which would make a reader chase him /her through the story. 

2.      A Powerful Antagonist:  who evokes  immense dislike from the readers. An antagonist so vile that to see the antagonist fall readers will stay awake the entire night to turn the pages.    
3.      A Unique, Original, and Amazing Setting that makes the readers take an amazing journey into a previously unchartered territory. Settings take time to create, but they are well worth the effort.

4.      An Engrossing Conflict that sucks the readers in its grip.

5.      Unexpected Twists and Turns of the Story: keeps the readers engrossed.

6.      A  Generous Sprinkling of  Romance: brings a smile on the readers’ faces and makes their hearts flutter.

7.      Heart Tugging Emotions: very  crucial for the emotional connection with the readers.

8.      Rounded, Peripheral Characters : they help in  pushing the story forward.

9.      Atleast two Strong  Subplots that Intersect the Main Plot:  this can involve the peripheral characters and  is extremely crucial to break the monotony if the main plot slackens.

10.  A Gripping  Plot: packed with racy scenes that add tension and make it a page    turner.

11.  Awesome Writing Style: full of vivid and unusual descriptions that tease the senses.

12.  Wonderful Dialogues or as I prefer to call them Conversation Pieces that are remembered long after the book has been put down.

13.  A Great Resolution ; preferably a Happily Ever After or a resolution that leaves the readers satisfied with the way the story has ended.

Do you think there are other elements that I have overlooked? Is there any other element that is crucial?  Please share with us. Not only are we keen to hear about it, we can also add it into our next manuscript and perhaps get close to writing an awesome book.

P.S. I suddenly realized that Friday had crept up on me and I had not written a post. So, I cheated by reposting an older post with a few changes. Hope cheating is allowed once in a while. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What is the Hallmark of Success?

I have always wondered what is the hallmark of success for writers. Success is different for different people especially when we take writers into consideration. For some just getting published is being successful as a writer. For some others it is  getting an agent. Now whether that agent is able to sell the manuscript is another thing.

For few other writers  success is measured in terms of getting a huge advance. Big advance equals a huge buzz which ensures a steady mention by the different media. Advances do arouse the interest factor and also ensure that people get familiar with both  the writer and the book.

Success for some would be the number of copies sold. More copies equals to more people reading our books which is also equivalent to more royalty. The more people who read our stories the wider is our reach. While there are a few who believe that winning awards is the ultimate sign of being successful as an author.  I feel winning awards does make the road towards publishing smoother and faster. Though award winning authors may not be selling many copies of their books, they are albeit taken seriously atleast by the literatti.

For me the definition of success has changed with time. Initially it was just to find a publisher. After a few books of mine hit the shelves, my idea of success changed to a fervent desire to see the book go into several reprints.

Now it is to get an agent and also hope that the agent is able to sell the manuscript. I would hate to find my agent and then face disappointment when the manuscript remains unsold.

Personally, I think I would consider myself successful if my books sell well, irrespective of the advances I get, irrespective of the publishing houses who publish my books. More and more I am noticing atleast in India, that smaller, previously unheard of publishing houses are coming out with books that are selling remarkably well ; the number of copies sold is phenomenal.

What is the hallmark of success as a writer for you? Is it a huge advance, a big agent, a large publishing house, being on the best-seller list for weeks, winning awards, or just getting published. Please share your views.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Books are a Writer's Best Friend

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot…reading is the creative center of a writer’s life…you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you."
–Stephen King

  I completely agree with Stephen King’s words. It’s important for writers to read a lot, not just in the genre that we write but also other books that pique our interest. One of the best ways we can hone our skill is by reading.  Reading familiarizes us with different styles of writing, plots, characters, and how other writers use dialogues effectively. Good books are of course great teachers who teach us how to write well. Reading in one’s own genre is advantageous as it makes us aware of what kinds of books are currently selling.

I hate to use the words bad books, so I will just say that books that are not all that great too teach us by highlighting the shortcomings of that particular story, by making us aware of the faults in the story: weak characterization and plots with large holes in it. We know what to avoid in our own writing, we know what can bore readers and turn off editors and agents.

The best way to put all that we have learnt while reading into practice is by writing like there is no tomorrow. As we write more and more, we do tend to get better and better. Our critiquing abilities are sharpened when we read lots of books.

I seriously don’t understand when some writers tell me that they just don’t have the time to read. It’s like an athlete saying that he doesn’t have time to practice. It’s our passion for reading that propelled us into writing.

I just finished Amish Tripathi’s Book 1 of the Shiva Trilogy: The Immortals of Meluha.  I have just started Book 2: The Secret of the Nagas.

What kind of books do you all read? Is your reading restricted to your genre or do you read all kinds of books? What are you all currently reading?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why is it Necessary to Name all the Characters in our Books?

 When I started writing, I disliked naming all the characters in my books. Giving a name to the main character and the secondary characters was tough enough so I often took the easy way out by not naming the other characters. I didn’t want to tax my brain by coming up with unusual story ideas as well as unique names for the characters.

The other characters would be left without an identity: the watchman, the principal, the teacher, the neighbour and the watchman’s cat would be anonymous creatures just making a few appearances and then doing the disappearing act.

As I waded deeper into my writing career, I realized that it is extremely important to name the other characters as giving a name creates a mental picture in our mind about the character. With the picture comes the character’s looks and style of dressing in mind. It also helps us in creating more rounded characters. Nameless characters are akin to cardboard cut-outs which lack personality and appeal.

I find it easy to visualize a character after I have bestowed a name on it. For every story/book I write nowadays, I spend a little name giving names which I feel will suit my characters.  Once a name drops into my mind, it brings with it a tiny mental picture of the character with it. With the mental picture in place, I weave a bit of back-story and give it a personality, looks and mannerisms.

I do try to go for unusual names, but not very exotic or tongue-twisting ones which can give the readers a verbal paralysis. Indian names by and large are not easy on the tongue. One of my CP’s who is an Indian, went nuts trying to pronounce the difficult names of my characters. Her critique was, “ I loved the first ten pages, but, honey, please go easy on the names. I had an extremely difficult time pronouncing the names.”

How are you in naming the characters? Do you spend time thinking of the names, or do you just pick a name randomly. Is it important for you to go for exotic names or you prefer simple, easy to pronounce names? Is a name synonymous with the character’s personality for you? Please share your views on naming characters.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Are you in Favour of Pen Names?

A pen name  or a nom de plume is a pseudonym adopted by an author. Its sometimes used to make the author’s name more distinctive or to disguise their gender (as in the case of J.K Rowling, her publishers were worried that boys may not read books if they realized they are written by a female), to distance an author from all of his /her works, to protect the author from retribution for their writings and for several other reasons either related to marketing or for aesthetic reasons. Most of these author’s real names were known only to the publishers.

Many times authors used pen names when their real names were likely to be confused with that of another author or a notable individual. Some authors who regularly write in more than one genre use different pen names for each. Romance writer  Nora Roberts  writes  erotic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens used the aliases "Mark Twain" and "Sieur Louis de Conte" for different works. Similarly, an author who writes both fiction and non-fiction (such as the mathematician and fantasy writer Charles Dodgson, who wrote as  Lewis Carroll) may use a pseudonym for fiction writing.

I have never been in favour of pen names. I would always wonder why some writers adopted pen names. For me its always my full name that is a part of my byline ( for the newspaper articles) and books, and stories that have appeared in anthologies.    
 There are several reasons for using pen names. Occasionally a pen name is employed to avoid overexposure. Prolific authors for pulp magazines often had two and sometimes three short stories appearing in one issue of a magazine; the editor would create several fictitious author names to hide this from the readers. Robert A. Heinlen wrote stories under pseudonyms so that more of his works could be published in a single magazine.  Stephen King published four novels under the name Richard Bachman because publishers didn't feel the public would buy more than one novel per year from a single author. Eventually, after critics found a large number of style similarities, publishers revealed Bachman's true identity.

Sometimes a pen name is used because an author believes that his name does not suit the genre he is writing in. I find this reason very strange. What do names have to do with genres. A reader would pick a book depending on the blurb or review and not because he/she liked the sound of the author’s name.

Western novelist Pearl Gray dropped his first name and changed the spelling of his last name to become Zane Grey because he believed that his real name did not suit the Western genre. Romance novelist Angela Knight writes under that name instead of her actual name (Julie Woodcock) because of the double entendre of her surname in the context of that genre. Edward Gorey had dozens of pseudonyms, apparently for his own amusement, each one an anagram of his real name.

I think I am too much in love with my name to use another one for writing. What do you all feel about pen names? Are you in favour of them?  Have you ever used them? What would you have wanted as your pen name? Please share your views with us.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Benefits of a Break

Hope the holiday season has rejuvenated and refreshed everyone. And I also hope that 2012 will be a great year in each and every way, for all of us.

The two week break that I took from blogging as well as other things in life has refreshed me in several ways: I have come back with a renewed vigour to tackle the onerous task of querying a new bunch of agents, with a query that I think is quite decent. I utilized the break to research  more agents (aren't I funny).

During my break I caught up with family and close friends, went out for lunches ( as the college was closed for the Christmas holidays) and read and read. Reading is one pleasure that I would hate to give up in life. The relaxed pace of life has helped me quite a bit. It has literally lulled my writing stress to sleep. Thank God, for that.    
I am also excited about the book I am writing. I have finished one-third of the story (though this is just the first draft). The remaining two-thirds has me excited beyond measure. I hope to finish the first draft by the end of this month. Another thing that I am enjoying is going with the flow for this current story.    
I think putting away the Middle Grade Paranormal Trilogy and moving away from it: both mentally and physically, has done me a world of good. I am fretting less and my stress level too has come down. Perhaps it was not the right time for that story. Maybe, God meant for me to write that story later.

I also connected with two awesome writers; one from Canada and the other from America. In one of my emails with Angela Ackerman, while we were discussing my submission process, Angela volunteered to help me polish my query.  Dear Angela has been simply awesome with her insight. Gosh, just by going through my query she has grasped my story. With Angela’s help I have managed to write a decent query. My fingers are crossed.

Another awesome writer from America, Mark Noce has volunteered to read my collection of stories (Mark sure is a brave guy). I am sure that he will come up with an amazing insight where my stories are concerned.

I also want to thank each and every one of you for all the support you all have extended to me and my blog and for being a part of my writing life. Just wanted to let you all know, that I missed you all a lot.

Now tell me, what did you all do during the holiday season and what are your plans for this year. I am eager to hear it all.