First vs. third Person Point of View

Hello and Welcome back to the blog! This is the first blog post written from my new home office, which is actually a corner of our master bedroom. My old office, located in the basement, is in the process of being transformed into a bedroom so our eight-year-old can have her own room, escaping her five-year-old sister. They bicker like, well, sisters. The wife and I hope a little time apart will help their relationship. Have you ever had a story’s length get away from you? I finished a short story recently that is 6,500 words. I didn’t have a set goal for the length upon starting out but intended to send it to some mags for possible publication. Having spent years writing short stories, I know there are magazine editors who will squirm at the thought of publishing a story of that length (No, it’s not really that long, but editors are limited by the total word count of each issue and the attention span of their audience). I’ve spent nearly two years focusing on novel writing and I guess I’ve gotten long winded during that span. Today’s topic is first and third person point of views.

(A note: Those that have read this blog are likely aware of my personal biases. I’ll try as hard as I can to remain impartial. In the off case it doesn’t happen, remember, we all have our opinions. This is mine.)

The way you tell a story has as big of an impact on the story as any plot twist. Nothing impacts the way you tell a story more than the point of view (POV) you choose to tell the story. Are you looking for an intimate look at a character’s life? Try first person on for size. Perhaps your story has a wide range of characters that play a crucial role. Third person would be a cozy fit. Which should you choose? Pros? Cons? Well, I have a list to help with that.

First Person POV

Definition: in the first-person point of view one of the characters tells the story from their perspective. This can be the main character in the story or a secondary character if you so choose.

Pronouns used: I, me, my, mine (singular) we, us, our, ours (plural)

Pros: it has the intimate feel of one person telling another a story. The character’s thoughts and emotions are expressed more freely, giving the reader a look inside his/her head. The writer can control the scope of the story that is shown to the reader.

Cons: The use of the pronoun I can be repetitive when handled by a novice writer. It can be limiting in terms of other characters thoughts and feelings. The subjective view can lead to the reader being deceived. Characters (and some of the writers) can come across as self-indulgent. Also, is just me or do some of these books skimp on the details?

Recommended Reading: The Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi, Lockwood & Co. Series by Jonathan Stroud, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

A short aside: Alright, it’s time to remove the impartiality for a moment. My twelve-year-old daughter prefers first person POV for two reasons. One, she can pretend she’s the main character because she’s twelve (i.e. selfish, but what kid isn’t?). Two, she likes the intimacy that’s created with the character. I’m using her as an example because it aligns well with the opinions I’ve read of other readers and writers on Twitter. I’ve got two brief statements to counter these points. I know I’m not the main character of a story (how boring would that book be?) and that’s fine with me. I have a high functioning imagination and come to the page ready to use it. While first person can create an intimacy with the reader, the same thing can be achieved with third person. It takes effort, but, yes, it can and has happened before. (I feel like that was snarky. Was it snarky? If so, mission accomplished.)

Third Person POV

Definition: the story is told by a narrator who is not part of the story. In third person limited the narrator’s knowledge is focused on one character and is told from their perspective. In third person omniscient an all-knowing narrator tells the story.

Pronouns used: He, she, him, her (singular) they, them, their (plural)

Pros: third person POV gives the writer the freedom to move between characters at their choosing. Secondary characters have more of a chance to develop without the biases of the main character having an impact. It provides an objective view of the story, allowing the reader to make decisions on their own. Honest. I’m the writer (more on this below).

Cons: Can be less intimate than first person, which can lead to the reader not identifying with the character. Switching the focus from one character to another on a repeated basis can occur, leading to a busy storyline with too many characters that are underdeveloped. “Head hopping” can occur if a writer is using third person omniscient. This happens when an all-knowing narrator describes the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters within the same scene (I’ve read bestselling writers who had this problem).

Recommended Reading: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, Monstrous Devices by Damien Love, The Dark Half by Stephen King

I’m the writer, explained. In first person the story is told by a character who lived through the plotline. If taken literally, and I am a literal person, that would mean the character’s vocabulary, grammar, tone, and other aspects that make up a writer’s voice would have to be sufficient to tell a story. I don’t know about you, but the average person in my life doesn’t have the skill or aptitude. Having spent most of my life writing, I have experience with voice and how to tell a story. Therefore, I consider myself the best person to tell the story.

Look, I’m not here to convince you to choose third person over first. That wouldn’t be right. Third person happens to be the best way I have to tell a story. I do have experience with first person, though I’ll admit it has always come within the confines of the short story. Yet third person is my go-to point of view, my default if you will. Try them both while writing a few short stories if you’re unsure what best suits you and your writing style. Remember, it’s about connecting with the reader through the story, and the story is king.

You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram, @StephenRoth316 for both. Click on the follow button at the bottom of this page and enter a valid email address for free updates on the blog. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

The Ramblings of a Writer Part 4

Hello and welcome back to the blog! There isn’t much news on my front this week. I’m still writing a short story involving vampires, thanks to some interruptions over the past week. Querying continues as well. I had a few varying thoughts on my mind, so this week we’ll skip the topical blog post in favor of a rambling edition. If you’re new to the blog, the ramblings are simply a post where I ramble off my thoughts on a variety of writing related topics. Let’s get to it.

  • They say that writing is hard. However, I think writing with kids around is harder yet. As you know, the world we live in today is vastly different than it was a year ago. With the ongoing pandemic we’re spending more time together than ever before. Last week, my wife went back to work (she’s a teacher), which was a big step in her recovery from a noncancerous brain tumor. (A note: this is the health scare I mentioned a while back. She’s doing great, by the way.) That leaves me home with the children when I’m not working my own part-time job. I’ve always been a writer that needs complete silence when working, though I can work with some noise if I focus hard enough. A feuding eight and five-year-old, coupled with a slothful and dramatic twelve-year-old have made for a less than ideal writing environment. That being said, writing has happened. Getting the kids outside, playing some games on the Wii (yes, we still have one of those), and not bothering Daddy unless bodily injury or damage to the house occurs is to thank. My goal while watching them has been modest, a few hundred words each day, but my current story is making progress.
  • I’m a big believer in editing. In fact, in my opinion, half of writing, good writing anyway, is a proper edit, which is why I don’t share my unfinished work. I don’t have anything against writers who feel the need to share their work as they go along. However, I’ve been writing for sixteen plus years and editing goes hand in hand with that. I know I’m a decent writer, yet I also know my work will be made better from a proper editing session. I liken sharing your work as you go along to sharing a first draft. My first drafts are quick and sloppy, but if yours aren’t, well, more power to you.
  • While reading this week I realized how much I enjoy a story with section breaks. The story I was reading was a short story with around a thousand words per section. I’m not sure if it’s pacing or the quick change of scenery that typically happens, but I prefer it over longer sections with little to no break. I’ve utilized section breaks in many of my short stories but have generally avoided them in novels (these are typically middle grade). My current short story has several short sections thus far, which I’ve liked. Of course, an edit will be the final verdict. Also, I’m thinking of incorporating more section breaks in my novels.
  • I’m not sure if there’s anything worse when reading than a good story ruined by a writer who lacks the skills to write said story. Last week, I finished reading a novel that had an intriguing plotline but was ruined by bad writing and even worse decision making on the writer’s behalf.
  • As a writer I know our job is to be descriptive. After all, we are entrusted with the task of being the stories spokesperson and advocate. Creating a unique world is a wonderful thing that a writer gets to do. Putting images into a reader’s mind using words alone. The connection is powerful. I say that so I can say this, overcomplicating that world doesn’t do your reader any favors. In the novel I mentioned above (Railhead by Philip Reeve, if you’re interested. Sorry, but I can’t recommend), the worst decision the writer made was including footnotes in the story. The novel takes place beyond our world and does require some added explanation at times. Yet, each footnote was multiple paragraphs long. There were chapters with five or six footnotes of unnecessary information. There were times when I had to remind myself of what had happened because I had read four footnotes in the same paragraph and read multiple pages of information. Look, I get that you’re creating a world of your own, but such actions kill the flow of the story and the reader’s interest along with it. At least it did with this reader.
  • In the last year I’ve become quite active on social media, with Twitter and Instagram being my favorites. Interacting with such writers has been an interesting experience to say the least. The varying approaches taken to the same craft has been an eye-opening experience. There are opinions and takes I don’t agree with, but half the fun is seeing what odd ways people have found to do something so simple.
  • Speaking of social media, I had a… unique response from a tweet last week. My tweet: “Does any other writer have to do a mental reset when switching from a novel to a short story? Vastly different skills are required to make each successful.” To which another writer responded, “No. I also write my short stories to feel like a complete chapter or something that can be followed up on if I please.” I didn’t bother responding, as I’ve had enough Twitter battles over unimportant topics to last a lifetime. While I can appreciate his approach, I don’t think it’s a good one to take. A chapter is a small part of a bigger story, while a short story is a complete story in its own right. To be a proper story, it must contain a beginning, middle, and end, which might or might not happen in the context of a chapter in a novel. (Snark and harsh opinion alert) I think it’s approaches such as this one that make short story writing so difficult for most writers; they don’t have the proper mindset.

(A note: I’ve had five short stories published in a variety of magazines over my sixteen years of writing. I say that not to brag, because that is nothing to brag about, believe me, but to say that I’ve had experience with the art that is the short story. In fact, I’ve had more experience with short stories than with novels. I could be wrong on my take, you’ll never convince me of it, but I could be.)

  • My oldest daughter is quickly becoming a teenager and a rather disturbing change has taken place, at least in the eyes of this writer. Once upon a time she read as much as I did and completed books faster as well. Her appetite for books has withered in the last few months, reading only when prompted by my wife or myself. I’m an accepting parent, believing in letting your children be who they truly are. Yet a part of me is sad at this development. It appears not only am I losing my first reader, but my reading buddy as well.

That’ll do it for this week. You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram, @StephenRoth316 for both. Click on the follow button at the bottom of this page and enter a valid email address for free updates on the blog. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Plotter vs. Pantser

Hello and welcome back to the blog! Envie Magazine has named this blog the Blog of the Month for August. Check out the latest issue for an interview with yours truly at envie magazine dot com. The first draft of Breaking Character: A Grave Awakening is marinating for the next month or so, before I read and prepare for a second draft. Querying continues with From Darkness Comes… with no news to report on that front. I’m currently writing a short story in the adult horror genre, involving a new take on vampires. Before we get to the post, I’ve got some cleanup to take care of. For those of you that have read last week’s blog post, I realized I made an error involving my own writing history. I stated that I hadn’t written a story about vampires because of the popularity of Twilight and magazine editors’ refusal to accept the commonly used trope. While that was true for a long time, I did write a middle grade short story around two years ago revolving around vampires. It was published for a brief time with Kindle Direct Publishing as a tester for a novel I ultimately decided against self-publishing. Plotter vs pantser is on the docket today. Let’s get started.

Those of you that are familiar with the blog have read this next statement before, but I’m going to reiterate a point for those that might be new. The story is king. In other words, the story is the boss and you should go wherever it takes you. However, how you go about doing that is completely up to you. Every writer has their own method to writing. Some of us prefer to have a detailed outline, a roadmap if you wish to call it that, of all the places the story should go from beginning to end. Such writers are commonly called plotters. Other writers prefer to feel out the story as they go along, flying by the seat of their pants. Those writers are called pantsers. If you’ve been around the writing community for long, chances are you’ve heard of these terms. But which are you? Below is a list of pros and cons for each, incase you haven’t made up your mind.

Pros

Plotter:

  • A concrete idea of where the story is going
  • No surprises
  • Helps eliminate writer’s block
  • Control over where the story is going

Pantser

  • Creativity
  • Feel for the story
  • Closer to the origins of storytelling
  • Makes you think and feel the characters in the moment

Cons

Plotter:

  • Dampens creativity
  • Can result in an overly plot driven story
  • These books can read like someone going through the motions

Pantser:

  • Writer’s block can result
  • Uncertainty and anxiety
  • Plot holes can happen here (and they have for me)

Which one to choose? Well, there are a lot of things to like about both options. Avoiding writer’s block and having a sense of control make the plotter method appealing to me. Unfortunately, I’m against dampening my creative outlet and prefer more of a character driven book to a plot heavy one. (A note: For those yelling at me, yes, I realize a plotter can write a novel that isn’t plot heavy and instead character driven. However, the risk is still there and that’s why it’s listed as a con.) On the other side of things, I appreciate the creative outlet that comes with the pantser method. I also think the phrase the story is king is more in tune with this method. It’s a conundrum, right? Wrong.

If you’re having trouble choosing between the plotter or pantser method, might I suggest going with a hybrid of the two. I’ll use my own writing method as an example, but you can do whatever combination works for you. When I start a novel (short stories are different), I write a paragraph or two describing the idea. Sometimes it’s longer, but usually two is enough to get the general idea laid out. Then I turn to character descriptions for all characters that play a significant role in the novel. A list of “things to happen” is next, usually involving key events and turning points. Before I start writing I make a couple of notes on what I would like to happen for each of the first three chapters. I don’t do the entire novel. However, I always plan two or three chapters ahead. This gives me the creative freedom to make changes as I go along without ruining an entire outline, which I usually take advantage of. I’ve tried being a full-on plotter and scrapped an entire outline as a result. Yet, I’ve also had problems with the full-on pantser method, as I have failed to finish all those novels. A hybrid method is best for my writing style.

So, how is my method for writing a short story different? Well, it looks similar, yet with less steps. I start out with an idea, usually a couple sentences jotted down and a few character descriptions. Then I get to writing. As the writing process goes along, I tend to make a few notes as a visual reminder of where the story is progressing to. It’s not as complex as my methodology for writing a novel, but it doesn’t need to be. I just need some basics to get through the three to five thousand words that make up a short story.

Whether you choose plotter, pantser, or a hybrid of the two, make sure of one thing. The story is king, choose one that helps you crown the story. Feel free to let me know which you are in the comments or if you have other pros and cons for either. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @StephenRoth316 for both. Click the follow button in the bottom, right-hand corner of the screen and enter a valid email address for free updates on the blog. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Writer Pitfalls

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I finished the final draft of my work in progress earlier this week, which is the second book in the unpublished Breaking Character Series. Query number thirty for From Darkness Comes… hit the electronic mailbox moments before I started writing this post. When I started querying the goal was an agent or fifty plus queries. I’m well on my way to the latter. Writer pitfalls is on the docket for today. Originally, I had planned this being for beginning writers, however, my interactions on Twitter this week have caused me to rethink that. Even veteran writers make an occasional mistake. Thanks to the members of the writing community on Twitter for participating. We’ll start off with their pitfalls.

  • Writers should write the story THEY want to tell. Don’t be influenced by what others think should be written. Jeff Botzenhart @JBotzenhart
  • Thinking your novel has to follow in the stead of what is perceived to be popular or marketable. The story must come first, write what needs to be written. Robyn Hunt @RobynHuntWriter

I think we can all agree that Jeff and Robyn are saying close to the same here. Following popular trends can be a slippery slope to say the least. I remember years ago when Twilight sent everyone into a frenzy. Writers who wouldn’t ordinarily have done so started writing vampire stories. Soon there were so many people writing vampire stories that most horror magazines wouldn’t touch a vampire story (Come to think of it, I don’t think I have written a vampire story because of this early roadblock). The point is, don’t follow trends or try to tell stories others want you to tell.

  • Thinking the first draft should be perfect. The first draft is the story you tell yourself. Editing and revisions are when you make it marketable. Tammy Deschamps @MmeDeschamps

Tammy said it perfectly, though I do have a few things to add about editing later. The rest of these are original to me.

  • Writing without a plan. Planner or Pantser? I’m sure if you’ve been around the writing community long enough then you’ve heard this question. I feel a story is a living, breathing thing that should be listened to, but that doesn’t mean I write without a plan. Even a rudimentary plan will help make sense of the complicated turns that navigating a novel can come with.
  • Not listening to the story. Did I confuse you by putting this after “writing without a plan”? Yes, I plan some and I feel the story out some as well. My planning is the minimal amount I feel I can get away with and still be flexible to change things on a whim. THE STORY IS KING! Sorry for yelling, but if you get anything out of this blog, let it be that simple sentence.
  • Editing as you go. Look, I understand that everyone has their own way of working their way through a short story or novel. In most cases I would say to each his/her own, but I cannot budge on this. Editing a story before you’ve finished the damn thing is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard of (For those offended by this, I’m reciting the Reese’s motto from the last year or so. #NotSorry). Yes, editing is about cleaning up what is inevitably dirty and making the story readable, which, theoretically, could be done as you go. However, that’s not all that goes into editing. Theme, continuity, character development are just a few of the things that can’t be done editing as you go. It’s a big picture process that should only be handled while looking at the big picture. I’m aware that some writers do this because they’re a contrarian or because once the draft is done, the book is done. I wont bother addressing the former—I’d be wasting my time—but to the latter I’d ask a brutally honest question. It may be done, but are you sure it’s good?

I’ve dogged other writers enough for a while. Let’s talk about one that I have been guilty of in the past.

  • Slipping tenses. Not all the pitfalls or mistakes on this list are complicated or debatable issues. It’s simple, slipping from past tense to present tense during a story is bad. It’s a simple problem that can be hard to see at first and even harder to fix. The fix involves reprogramming your brain to catch tense slippages while editing. This was an ongoing problem that I wasn’t aware of for years before I finally saw it. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. I did so much editing involving tense slippages that I started to catch myself in the process of committing the error. As a result, I can’t read a novel written in present tense without my brain trying to correct the problem. It takes me about twice as long to read a book written in present tense, so I tend to avoid them.
  • Underdeveloped Characters. I’m sure we’ve all read a book where the characters had the same dimension as a box of delivery pizza. I try to negate this by writing character bios for every major character that appears in the book. While I’m writing I often look back to this for reference. Dialogue is important for ensuring characters differentiate from each other, after all, we don’t all speak the same and neither should your characters. Also, this is where a good reading and editing session—yes, done after the entire story is finished—comes in handy. I’ve added entire scenes while editing to fluff up a character that I wasn’t happy with.
  • Not reading or writing as much as they should. Daily. Enough said.
  • Sharing your work as you’re writing it. In his book On Writing Stephen King said, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being for just you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, anyway—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.” There’s a time for getting someone’s opinion about that half-baked story and that time is not while you’re writing it.
  • Caring too much about vocabulary. I’m sure every modern-day writer has searched for a word to make themselves sound smarter or better fit what they were trying to say. Guess what? The word that comes to mind first is often times the word closest to what you mean. For those that are worried about sounding smart, keep this in mind. Last year, I had a short story published and praised for the imagery displayed utilizing simple language. I wasn’t trying to be profound or anything. It’s simply how I write as a middle grade writer, even if I’m writing an adult story.
  • Using too many adverbs. I’ve had Twitter battles—and been blocked—because of my opinion on this subject. Stephen King thinks they’re evil, though uses an adverb on occasion. While I can’t say I feel as strong about adverb usage as Mr. King, I can say they should be used sparingly (yes, I did that on purpose), and never after dialogue tags.

I had more in mind and the list of possibilities is endless, but, alas, we’re out of words and I’m out of time. If you would like to see your response to a question on the blog, all you have to do is follow me on Twitter and keep an eye out (I will specify if it is for the blog). @StephenRoth316 for both Twitter and Instagram. For free email updates on the blog, click the follow button in the lower right-hand corner, then enter a valid email address. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

The First Word

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I know it has been a while since my last post, and for that I must apologize. My intention had been to take a couple of weeks off as I wrapped up the first draft of a novel. A health scare with my wife extended that break a few more weeks. On a related note, what does a writer do when he finds himself a visitor in a hospital without a laptop in a city where he doesn’t live? Write flash fiction on his phone, of course. To make things interesting and more difficult because I had the time, I started each story with the last word of the previous story. That means the last word of story #1 is the first word for story #2. A note to those who haven’t read my writing before, I write horror, so some of these are on the dark side. Now that I’ve explained things in unnecessary detail, let’s get started with the first story.

Shanna’s Kingdom

Shanna was awakened by screams in the distance growing closer with each blood curdling emission.

Beatrix—the name bestowed upon her trusty rifle—was in hand before her eyes had fully opened.

A thick blue tarp covered the broken window of room 5104 in the Oaklawn Hospital’s ICU. She flung it aside, got into position, and sighted the scope.

A decaying flap of skin hung from the zombie’s forehead, blocking its vision, and forcing it to hunt by instinct. Unfortunately for its prey, it was adept at the task.

Ten yards away was the source of the screams, a middle-aged man running toward Shanna’s Kingdom.

She chambered a round and squeezed the trigger. The man fell to the pavement of the hospital’s parking lot.

Her dwindling supplies couldn’t support another person, neither could her patience.

Shut up and Wait

Patience was a virtue most people weren’t blessed with. As for Bryan? Well, he had it in spades. When your dad’s response to the age-old question of arrival was a wild sweep of the backseat with his nondriving hand, you learned there were times when it was best to shut up and wait.

Like when the old man came home after a long night of boozing and carousing with the two Jimmy’s—Jimmy’s Tavern and Jim Beam. On those nights he was often too inebriated to climb the stairs to the bedroom where Bryan’s bruised mother tried to escape the monster she’d married through sleep.

Shut up and wait.

In the dark Bryan was doing just that, shutting up and waiting.

The front door opened and slammed closed. Clumsy footfalls shuffled along the carpet.

Shut up.

The shuffling stopped, followed by a belch and the sudden compression of couch springs.

Wait.

When Bryan couldn’t wait any longer, he stepped out of the shadows and approached the monster.

The Creek

Monster Creek looked as ordinary as I had feared. Macabre tales of serpentine creatures lurking in the creek’s depths and shadowy humanoids watching from the trees. Tales that I doubted as I watched the water’s surface ripple in the gentle breeze.

A laugh escaped my lips. To think I had been afraid of such a serene location.

A deep throated growl chased that thought away. My eyes darted to the tree line near the shore of the creek. Two red orbs glowed in the darkness.

A chill went down my spine. It was supposed to be a story.

Something large splashed in the creek.

At eighteen I was an adult and deemed myself ready to put childish things behind me. Though warned not to, I had come to prove the stories were just that, stories.

As a second and third pair of eyes appeared in the trees, I realized the stories weren’t of the fictional variety.

Someone screamed as the shadow cloaked creatures stepped out of the tree line. They were nearly upon me when I realized the screams were my own. Water splashed in the creek. A serpentine shape darted from the water. They met me as one.

It was only a story, only a—

(A note: some will say I cheated by ending the previous story abruptly. I agree.)

Face in the Fire

A bustling accusatory wind rattled the window in its frame. The view outside showed a torrent of snow and ice covering a grave weeks old. The wind had penetrated the manor, which had caused an unrelenting chill to overtake its confines. That same chill had settled deep within Phineas’ insides.

Cornelius had built a roaring fire in the hearth before retiring to his chambers for the evening. The flames crackled and hissed, as if a song sung by a demon.

Murderer.

Could that possibly have been the wind or was it a figment of a mind that had lost the sharpness of youth?

Phineas pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders and leaned closer to the fire. He watched the red and orange flames dance as the fire fed upon the wood. A face appeared in the flickering inferno, as if by miracle or sorcery.

“No,” the single word escaped Phineas’ lips.

Murderer. The wind accused again.

The face in the fire stared back at him, eyes filled with accusations.

“Murderer,” the face hissed.

“No,” Phineas said to the face of his beloved.

The fire cracked in response, causing the elderly man to flinch. Phineas jumped out of the straight back chair. Cornelius. He needed Cornelius.

The figure in the doorway brought him to a stop. Madeline stood there, reeking of death. It was the same name carved into the headstone in the manor’s cemetery.

The fire cracked again as his beloved crept closer to return the favor.

Not Prey

Favor had not been shown to our family in the eyes of the Little One. He stood on top of a rusty metallic chariot once used by the old ones. He surveyed the surrounding crowd with a pompous expression. We were on our knees in front of the chariot.

I watched as everyone looked away when the Little One’s eyes fell upon them. Fear firmly gripped them, shattering what spirit these people—my people—once had. Gone was the hope I had witnessed so shortly ago.

It was my fault.

The Little One’s gaze became that of stone as he came to my family. My Da, Ma, Suz, and Nik looked away, as was the custom. When his eyes fell upon me, I didn’t look away. Instead I smiled.

Fire burned in the Little One’s eyes at my audacity. He bared his teeth, as a predator eyes its prey. His feet lifted off the surface of the metallic chariot.

Lightning sparked in the sky above. The Little One looked up in surprise, for he didn’t know the magnitude of my power.

The lightning struck the Little One out of the sky. His chard body fell to the chariot with a thud.

I was not prey.

Those From the Sky

Prey—or humans as they were once known—scattered at the sight of Those From the Sky.

A metal orb hovered three feet above the ground.

It spun in a continuous circle, as if surveying its surroundings with imaginary eyes.

Zara watched as her kinfolk pushed each other aside in their effort to flee the seemingly innocent object.

Unlike her kinfolk, she was finished running.

She held a long wooden stick that she had been using to play a rudimentary game with the other kids.

They had thought it was only a game. It wasn’t.

Zara dug her heels into the pavement and squeezed the stick tight.

The orb picked her out of the fleeing prey; the only prey that wasn’t so.

She was prepared when it flew at her. With a mighty swing, she connected with the orb containing an alien within. The orb flew through the sky and out of sight.

Zara was still watching when a mass of orbs appeared in the sky flying in her direction.

Heels dug in and the stick gripped firmly, she awaited their arrival.

I hope you enjoyed these short stories. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Daydreams & Time Machines

Hello and welcome back to the blog! From Darkness Comes… was queried to its twentieth literary agent this week. That’s half the total Breaking Character had in a year. Not bad for two months of querying. Of course, when you make sure to keep ten queries out in the world at once, well, the total builds up rather quickly. It also helps that I didn’t quit querying to pursue self-publishing, only to change my mind at the last minute (I had queried twenty-one agents when I gave up querying, if you’re wondering). That’s what happened the last time around. If you can’t tell, I’m feeling introspective today. In fact, this blog post is nothing more than me throwing some thoughts out into the universe.

My current work in progress, titled A Grave Awakening, is the second book in the Breaking Character Series. If you’re new to the blog there’s no need to search. I can save you the trouble, it’s unpublished for now, possibly forever. The first book was a writer’s dream experience. The words flowed fast and free, without any trouble or obstructions. In most cases the characters turned out better than I had envisioned, with the one exception dealt with in the second draft. My vision for the book at the beginning matched the end result. It was my fifth completed novel (not to mention a dozen others that were abandoned in my younger days). I had never had a writing experience like it before. Where was the distress at the unruly characters, the anger when the words either failed to come or showed up begrudgingly and ill-suited for the purpose, the consternation of a plotline shot straight to hell? All were absent. Yet as I struggle with the second book in the series, I wonder should those feelings have been present?

I won’t lie, the writing experience for this book hasn’t been an enjoyable one overall. It’s like being in a time machine set for ten to fifteen years in my past. In those days if a manuscript was being problematic or the writing was hard, I often gave up. Yeah, I had a lot of quit in me in those days. I like to think I’ve worked that problem out. My focus now is making the current piece of work in progress as good as it can get.

I haven’t experienced many of the problems I talked about with other books. The plotline is still firmly in place, despite my repeated delays in making small decisions that will affect it. The characters are still as good as ever (at least I think so, you can never be sure until the first reading). While I have had a problem finding the words at times, when found, they are more than adequate. Finding motivation to continue with the series has been a struggle. Once a week I start a writing session by staring off into space, daydreaming of a return of the magical writing experience from the first book, while other times I pick that manuscript apart for errors. I don’t want you to get the impression that the problems lie with the book. My progress has been slow, but what has been written is good.

The truth is I decided to write about my experience with A Grave Awakening because I have spent so much time contemplating the problem. I have some ideas, though whether they are accurate I’m honestly not sure. It’s a mental blockage of some form. That’s not to say that I’ve been experiencing writer’s block. I believe that to be a different problem that I haven’t experienced. The first book is the source of the blockage. A few weeks into Book #2, Book #1 was retired from querying without netting an agent. I started the second book knowing this could happen, and decided self-publishing was an option. One literary agent requested a reading of Book #1 and held onto it for two months before rejecting it without a comment. That gets inside of a writer’s head. I took some chances with that book other writers don’t normally take regarding the plotline. Since there are spoilers involved, I’d prefer not to reveal what those are. I have wondered if those influenced the agent’s opinion, despite being told by those that have read the book that the decisions made on my part only added to the plot and in no way hindered it. Also, this is the first time I have returned to the same characters for a book. All my other writing experiences have been with fresh characters.

Though I have listed the above problems both for introspective purposes and for your reading enjoyment, I don’t think they had much bearing on my experience. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have spent time picking the first manuscript apart a time or two. (Here is the part where I lose some of you.) Before I begin, I would like to state that I don’t have anything against self-publishing. It’s a good fit for some writers. I, however, don’t fit in that group for reasons I won’t explain because it would make this already long post longer and because I have done so before. Self-publishing is a backup plan for me (Twitter hated this by the way). I’m a traditional publishing kind of guy. (Could lose some here too) Not all self-published books are good and the same can be said of the writers that write them. Look, I’ve never been a very confident guy. I had written four books before I worked up the courage to send one to an agent. With time that has changed, at least in my writing life. I’ve read a lot and in the last few years I’ve submitted a lot. I’ve had compliments from magazine editors and literary agents, who rejected my work ironically. There are some bad writers out there and I’m not one of them. I think the point got lost somewhere in there. The point is this, traditional publishing has always been a dream for me. The rejection of the first book in the series killed that dream for the series and made working on the second book difficult to say the least.

The dream of being a traditionally published author didn’t die with Breaking Character. It will have to be another book that brings that dream to fruition. As far as A Grave Awakening goes, the writing will continue. I’m not going to quit a story after writing twenty-eight thousand words of a planned forty thousand book. I look at it as a positive experience considering I didn’t quit, when years ago I would have. Personal growth, I guess.

For those of you still reading that I didn’t offend, thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams.

You can receive free email updates about the blog by clicking “follow” at the bottom of the screen and entering a valid email address. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. My handle is StephenRoth316 for both.

Stephen Michael Roth

Can You Improve Your Writing?

Hello and welcome back to the blog! For those that read last week’s post, yes, I have managed to stay motivated with my current work in progress. However, a new problem has surfaced, because doesn’t it always? I have started to question my decision making regarding the series I am writing. I would tell you about those problems, but it involves spoilers. Of course, that would mean publishing the series at some point, which I am still unsure of. Anyway, enough blabbing. To the docket we go! Today’s post is about whether it is possible to improve your writing. If you have read my post on the 10 Truths About Writing, you already know the answer.

I’ll get the answer out of the way right up front. Yes, you can improve your writing. A blog post like this would be a waste of time if the answer were anything different. Heck, this entire blog would be a waste of time as well. This blog started out as a way for me to share my writing journey as I am still traveling along it. Several of you have flattered me with comments regarding my views and insights on writing. To know that I am helping other writers with what little knowledge I have accumulated over my years of meandering along this path has been a humbling and rewarding experience. At some point along the way it became more about helping other writers with my story, than just telling my story. Sixteen years of failure has got to be good for something, right? (Editing note: That last sentence is sad. True, but sad.)

Stephen King’s On Writing is a book that every writer should read, in my opinion at least. He’s a straight shooter that doesn’t have time for BS and I respect that. Take this quote, “…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” Maybe it has to do with King being my favorite writer or that I first read this book as a young man, but I agree. I’ll cover bad writers in a minute. By a “competent writer” I think King is referring to writers who understand the basics of writing such as grammar, punctuation, voice, style, vocabulary, etc. I agree with his statement that it is possible for a competent writer to get better for one simple reason. It happened to me.

If you want an in-depth look at how my writing has improved over the years, then I invite you to read my post “How Self-Awareness Helped Me”, I’ll provide an overview for the rest. Having gone back through and read some of my early writing, I think I was a competent but not spectacular writer. I did a lot of reading, even more writing, and editing with a heavy hand. Throughout those early years I was submitting short stories to magazines, most of which were rejected. Few magazines offered a critique of the submitted work, but I did receive one that wasn’t flattering. I tossed it aside and went about my writing. At some point down the line, maybe a year, possibly two, I had a revelation regarding my work. I tended to slip out of past tense and into present tense at any given moment. Once seen I couldn’t unsee it. Had I listened earlier, I would have saved myself some time and aggravation. Several other mistakes were realized in those days by reading other writers or while editing. It took time with me and it will with you.

Let’s go back to that quote from Stephen King for a moment. You know that part about it being impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer? I believe that to be true as well. Bad writers either don’t understand or disregard the basics of writing. Of course, some are aware of the basics, but are hopeless at putting them to use. If you’re a bad writer there’s probably no hope for you. However, in my experience most bad writers aren’t aware of their own abilities or lack thereof. Since you’re reading my blog, I’m going to assume you don’t fall into this category.

This is the paragraph where I give you some advice on how to improve your own writing. While preparing for this post I did some research to see what other writers were saying about improving your writing. Honestly, most of it isn’t worth reading. It was a mixture of common sense that every writer worth his/her salt should know to downright lies. Here’s all I have on the subject and what worked for me. Read a lot. Reading both good and bad books gives you examples of what to do and what to avoid. Write a lot. They say that practice makes perfect and they’re right. Edit with an open mind and fresh eyes. After the first draft is finished, I set every story aside for at least two weeks, and up to a month. I work on something else during that time, so when I return, I am further removed from the story. Having a fresh eye is important to the edit, and the edit is crucial if you want to improve your writing. When you get a critique, listen. Lastly, and most importantly remember the story is king. Writers think too much. You’re a conduit for the story. DO YOUR JOB.

There is no quick fix to becoming a better writer, at least that I’ve found. If you’re looking for one, exit now. It’s a long and lonely road. It takes work, but if you’re like me, it’s an obsession, a compulsion, something that I can’t imagine not doing. If that’s you, cool, stick around, let’s talk writing.

You can receive free email updates about the blog by clicking “follow” at the bottom of the screen and entering a valid email address. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. My handle is StephenRoth316 for both. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Motivation

Hello and welcome back to the blog! You’ll have to excuse me for not posting last week. I’ll get to the reason for my absence towards the end of this post. For a brief period this week, I was contemplating doing a post on social media etiquette. I would have vented on people who deem you worthy of adding you to a list, but not of actually following. Or people who inundate you with multiple direct messages and tags in a brief period. Also, if I block you on Twitter and you refollow me with a new username, at least change the profile picture so I’ll be fooled into thinking it’s someone else. No, let’s not talk about that. Instead let’s turn to something constructive. Motivation is on the docket today.

I know we’re all adults here and you know the meaning of basic words. Yet we’ll start off with a definition to get us going. Merriam-Webster defines motivation as “the general willingness or desire for someone to do something.” I have no doubt that if you’re reading this blog that the something in this definition is probably writing related. Perhaps you’re writing a short story or a novel. Maybe you’re pursuing some other creative outlet such as poetry or song writing (my oldest daughter has ventured into this realm recently). Call it drive, ambition, determination, or motivation. Call it whatever your heart desires, but without it that novel won’t get written.

The things that motivate us are as wide ranging as we are as people. Money and fame might motivate one person, though I caution you that this is the wrong reason and not likely to come true. While another person might be motivated by the simple act of exploring one’s creative side. I sincerely hope that you lean more towards the latter than the former, as it is the way I lean, though with a few more complexities thrown in. Whatever your motivation is, it’s best to identify what it is exactly that motivates you.

The best way to identify what motivates you is to think about what you want. What are your dreams and desires? What is it about those dreams and desires that makes you want to achieve them? How would you feel if those dreams came true? How about if they are never realized? What would you do? Answering these questions and others like it is a critical step in reaching whatever dream you are bold enough to reach for.

Yes, it’s important. I would argue it’s important because you might not always feel like writing. Sure, it’s easy to write when everything in your world is going right or the words are coming easy. Big deal. Anyone can do that. But when you’ve been working a full day at your day job, life is too busy, or you just received a rejection email from a literary agent about another project, the chances are you won’t feel much like writing. Yeah, that last one is oddly specific because it’s mine. It’s also the reason I only open emails from magazine editors or literary agents after a writing session, not before.

When I don’t feel like writing for various reasons, I simply think about what motivates me to do it in the first place. Usually the simple act of being creative is enough to push me towards the laptop. Another incentive is the feeling I get after a good writing session. I’m sure I’m not the only one that gets a buzz akin to drinking a glass of wine or two after a successful session at the keyboard. I implore you to think about the reasons, your motivation for writing, when you just don’t feel like it. Then go write.

Sometimes, however, that isn’t enough to push me towards the dungeon (my office is in the basement of our house and I write horror, so it fits). There are times when I need something more. Then my mind turns to a young reader pulling my book off the shelf and reading it with a smile. Someday, I might be their favorite author and that’s good enough to get me going. Or I think about my children, whom I try to both encourage and display that it’s okay to chase a dream. Yet my favorite thing to think about when I don’t feel up to writing is the reaction of my first reader, who also happens to be my oldest daughter. Despite her dislike of the horror genre, she has grown fond of reading the first draft of my stories. She’s become quite good at her job as a first reader, telling me when something works and when it doesn’t. In fact, she was emphatic when I was thinking about changing a surprise ending. It stayed. She reads the story and quotes lines of dialogue back to me, as she does with other books, forgetting that I know what was said. I wrote it after all. Yeah, that’s motivation enough for me every time.

Now is the time I reveal the reason I didn’t post last week. In fact, it’s the reason I chose motivation as the topic for this week’s blog post. Last week, I was having a hard time getting motivated to work on my current work in progress, Breaking Character: A Grave Awakening. That novel is the second book in a series, with Breaking Character: The Craven House being the first. About two months ago, I decided to stop querying the first book in the series. It had been sent to more than forty agents over the span of a year. I felt it was time. I would let the queries I had already sent out run their course, without sending more out. On Thursday, the timeframes given by the literary agents expired without a word from them. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept. Breaking Character: The Craven House wouldn’t be published by traditional means.

For those wondering, yes, I am considering self-publishing the novel, though it will be after I have gone through the querying process with another novel, From Darkness Comes… That’s down the line. Back to what motivates me for a minute. I have always wanted to see a book I wrote on the shelf at a bookstore. For those wondering, in the middle grade section it’s between Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling (good company, I know). If the first book in the series wasn’t going to be on a shelf in the bookstore, what were the chances of the second? Slim to none, right? Well, my motivation to write suffered as a result. Oh, I still wrote and some of it was quite good, but the desire to do so was lacking a bit and my willingness to stay at the laptop was nonexistent. Honestly, I didn’t even realize what the problem was until the weekend with only a few thousand words to show for the week. Because of my meager output, I spent Friday, a day I usually focus on the week’s blog post, playing catchup.

So far this week (I’m writing this on Monday night because I have the house to myself), I have managed to stay motivated. I’ve done this by thinking about my first reader and her reaction to reading the next installment of the happenings between Calvin and The Writer, a character modeled after myself, with a sinister twister, of course. I wish you the best of luck staying motivated in your own writing. If ever you find yourself lacking some motivation, pull a bad book off the shelf and give it a read. You’ll be feeling better about your own writing in no time and be chomping at the bits to prove it. It works for me.

You can receive free email updates about the blog by clicking “follow” at the bottom of the screen and entering a valid email address. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. My handle is StephenRoth316 for both. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Writer Hate

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I’m still chipping away at the second book in the Breaking Character Series, tentatively titled A Grave Awakening. More queries were sent out this week for From Darkness Comes… and I’m still awaiting query responses from the first book in the Breaking Character Series. The timeframe given by the agents on the latter are set to expire later this month. It’s looking like Breaking Character won’t net me an agent, yet I remain hopeful regarding my writing journey. This week I wanted to talk a little about writer hate. You know, writers that hate other writers. I have concluded that I know far too much about it.

There have been many notable feuds between writers. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway had a feud over each other’s vocabulary. Stephen King and James Patterson traded barbs several years ago over the similarities of all of Patterson books. King even took a slight at Stephanie Meyer once, saying Meyer “can’t write worth a darn.” Not to mention a backhanded compliment delivered by King to Dean Koontz, who “can write like hell”, while other times is “just awful”. Yes, you’ll have to forgive me, I’m a King fan, so I’m tuned into who he does and doesn’t like.

If you’re wondering, and I know you are, there are writers I care so little for that I would use the dreaded hate word. A couple of years ago I finally got around to reading The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien. Writers and readers alike have been praising this work, along with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I’ll admit my expectations were high. Tolkien didn’t live up to them. Don’t get me wrong, the overall story arc was entertaining. Yet, I found his writing subpar and grew tired of his tendency to describe the unimportant. Sorry to those of you who are fans, but I’m not.

After reading King’s comments about Stephanie Meyer I decided to give Twilight a try. My early impression was that he was right, she was at best an average writer. However, that wasn’t what got my blood boiling over Meyer. After all, if you read as much as I do, you’re bound to come across some bad writers. No, it was her respect for the horror genre or rather lack thereof. Her sparkly vampire disregarded the lore created by an entire genre that had made her book possible. When I got to the section where Edward’s sparkling nature is revealed, I put the book down and walked away, never to return. Also, as a horror writer I was miffed by the sudden onslaught of vampire stories that caused magazine editors to banish the nocturnal fiend from their pages.

My feelings for Meyer may have been influenced by King. However, the same cannot be said for James Patterson. Years ago (I believe this was before King even made his comment, and know it was before I read it), I read an article describing Patterson’s writing process. At the time it included a detailed outline, which he sent to a cowriter, who therein wrote the first draft of the story. It was then returned to Patterson, who completed another draft and turned it into a novel. Yes, that’s why every Patterson book seems to have a cowriter mentioned on the cover. Go ahead, look for it, it’ll be there. As a lover of the creative process involved in writing I didn’t understand this, and still don’t. It turns the writing process until a virtual assembly line. That’s something I just don’t respect.

A few weeks ago, I got into a Twitter argument with another writer over the use of adverbs in fiction. My stance: a writer worth his salt can come up with a more appropriate word that the adverb is trying to modify. This writer chose to address my opinion rather than stating his own and did so with snark. Ever the king of snark, I responded. After a brief back and forth, which involved an insult and a claim that “said” was an adverb (hint: it’s not), both on his part, I was blocked. Silliness is what it was. An argument over the use of adverbs? I usually walk away from such confrontations on social media but didn’t that time. Yes, I learned my lesson if you were wondering.

(Editing note: I’m keenly aware that I use adverbs, but it’s with discretion and never after dialogue tags, which was his main point, other than not understanding parts of speech. I had assumed he had blocked me because of our argument. While that might be true, I think making an error was also a big part of it. He was too busy attempting to twist my words against me, that he didn’t realize he was wrong. I was too offended by having my words twisted to realize his error. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t realize it, because I don’t think I could have passed up the opportunity to throw it in his face. I was that mad. Don’t go thinking too highly of me though, I assaulted his character for attempting to twist my words. Not a proud moment, but it happened.)

So, why is it that adults who should know better make snarky or snide comments regarding another person’s abilities? Is it jealousy? A superiority complex? Or an inability to shut up? I’m sorry to say that most of us have forgotten something our mothers, grandmas, and teachers told us growing up. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” Juvenile, I know. Yet so is ridiculing another writer because you don’t care for his writing ability or creative process (I’m guilty of both if you recall).

Several months ago, I unfollowed a self-proclaimed polymath (yes, you read that right) on Twitter who put both other writers and the writing community down on a regular basis. This writer/artist often complained about how other writers attacked him or instigated arguments. Ironic, right? He even went so far as to say the artist community was superior to the writing community and the latter was full of giant egos (yet his was the biggest I have encountered in eight months on Twitter). Look, pat yourself on the back all you want. I won’t stop you, nor will I join in on the patting. However, ridiculing others on a constant basis, then acting pompous and innocent when called out is where I draw the line. After reading several of his comments, I put my phone down and walked away for the rest of the day. The urge to sling mud at this man was strong, somehow, I resisted. The next day I unfollowed.

This is the part of the post where I reach for some sort of conclusion out of my rambling and try to sound profound. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t try to delve into why we hate or what it does to our individual psyche, though I’m sure it’s not good (#insight). While prepping for this blog post I had a thought that struck me as useful, so I’ll share it. In the early days of this blog, my paternal grandma would read every post and still does from time to time. While I was writing, I often considered what she would say about the subject matter of my posts. That’s what I suggest for everything you write, say, or post on social media. Whether she be an earthbound saint, like my paternal grandma, or a heavenly one, like my maternal grandma, act like she reads everything and try not to make her blush.

Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

(A post editing note: I have received several new followers in recent days and weeks. In fact, someone just emailed me regarding how to receive email updates from the website. I’m afraid something went wrong when I tried to respond via email. I’ll do it here in case someone else needs help.

When you’re on the website there is a small box in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, which stays there. Click on follow in that box. You’ll be prompted for an email address to set-up a free WordPress account. After entering your email address you’ll receive an email to confirm. That’s it. You’ll receive emailed updates about the website.)

Stephen Michael Roth

10 Misconceptions About Writing

Hello and welcome back to the blog! On the last post, I listed ten truths about writing. At the end of that post I promised to tackle lies next. The thought is the same, though I have decided misconceptions about writing is more appropriate. Some of these are perpetuated by famous writers, while others are the result of popular opinion. Either way these commonly held beliefs aren’t true. Speaking of opinions and beliefs, the following list was formulated using my own.

  1. Write what you know. These are in no specific order, yet I think this to be the biggest misconception most nonwriters and beginning writers believe to be true. If you’re a lawyer or a doctor, yes, feel free to write what you know. The rest of us should feel free to expand our horizons. That doesn’t mean that proper research and preparedness go out the window, but you don’t need to be a retired police officer to write a gripping crime thriller.
  2. You’ll get rich writing the great American novel. When I was a newly married young man, I confided in our church’s life group that I was an aspiring writer. The leader of the group waxed poetically for several minutes about the great American novel. I have no doubt that many people think penning a book will make them rich or at the very least insanely comfortable. It’s just not true. Go ahead, write that book; just do it knowing you’ll be lucky to make enough money to quit your day job.
  3. You can’t take a break from writing. When I’m working on a novel or a short story, I write a mandatory six days a week, maybe seven if I can spare it. I do this until the story is done. Then I take a break for a week or two. By that time, the laptop is beckoning my return to the dungeon (my office is in our basement). When necessary this break has been longer than two weeks, but that’s rare. Writing can be a taxing and lonesome venture. Taking a break is fine. Just remember the longer the break, the more rust you’ll have to shake off before returning to a serious project.
  4. You need to be prodigious with your output. In On Writing Stephen King talks about new writers setting a goal of one thousand to one thousand five hundred words per day, with the eventual goal of hitting the two-thousand-word mark. Well, Stephen King is a fulltime writer and has that kind of time. Most of my writing sessions have come while children nap or watch cartoons in the hazy midafternoon. My time is limited. Most days I write around fifteen hundred words and am perfectly fine with the output. One day a week I only write around five hundred words. This is to keep the story in my head while having a lighter workload for the day. In my younger days, many novels went unfinished if I took too many days off from a story. This prevents that from happening. Remember, it’s about not losing the story.
  5. Stay in your genre. Many writers stay in a genre because they have developed a relationship with the readership. Perhaps there is a fear of alienating the fans by trying a new genre. However, I’m a fan of Stephen King, as I’m sure you have guessed, and have followed him to other genres. Once I develop a fondness for a writer, I’ll read anything they write, within reason, of course. Plus, this lets new writers discover you as a writer.
  6. All it takes is a competent writing ability. I have read books that were well written that didn’t hold my attention long enough to finish (I’m looking at you, The Historian). Also, if it were only about writing ability, I wouldn’t be getting rejection slips regarding the two novels I have written.
  7. All it takes is a good idea. While some writers can get away with having a good idea held up by poor writing ability (I’m looking at you, Stephanie Meyer). Most of us will have to combine good writing with a good idea to get published for the first time.
  8. You must enter into writing with a plan. In my opinion, writing is about feeling out the best way to tell a story. In truth, some writers are plotters, some are pantsers, and some are a hybrid. I have tried all three of these and can tell you, personally, I prefer a hybrid approach. A detailed itinerary isn’t necessary, though a few ideas of landmarks to visit along the way is recommended.
  9. Fancy eloquent language is necessary. Some writers like to dazzle us with their prose. For instance, Dean Koontz can develop a brilliant plot, yet has spent several pages describing the Santa Ana wind unnecessarily. There are times when less is more. I had a short story published last year in which the editor complimented my use of simple language to weave a complex story. Putting an image into the reader’s head, that’s the important thing, and sometimes big words need to be left behind.
  10. You should listen to published writer’s advice as if they were a sage from the promised land. Look, every writer’s journey is different, and they all have opinions. If you listened to them all, well, you would never get anything done. Now, literary agents, on the other hand, are another matter.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth