Prioritizing the Markets

What’s that?  You say you’ve finished writing a story but you’re not sure which market to send it to first?  It can be confusing, selecting among all the markets listed on Duotrope and Ralan and other similar sites.

Every writer makes these choices differently, so I’ll just share my method and the reasons for it.  As always, you’re free to do as you wish.

First, prepare yourself mentally for the probability—the near certainty—of rejection.  I’ve already discussed how to deal with rejection.  My purpose now is to get you to make a prioritized list of markets you intend to send the story to, with the understanding that, most likely, the story won’t be snapped up by the first one.

Market Priority ListHow do you make this prioritized list?  If you wrote the story in response to an announced anthology, then the anthology would top your list.  After that, I recommend going in order of highest-paying market to lowest based on searches of sites like Duotrope or Ralan.  Each market on the list should be appropriate, in the sense that they’re asking for stories of the type that yours is.  Don’t waste your time or some editor’s by sending to a market for which your story isn’t suited.

Why am I suggesting the order be based on payment?  I suspect some of you are objecting that, as a beginning writer, your story couldn’t possibly be good enough for the highest-paying markets, so why start with them?

My response is—have some faith in your story.  I’ve said before that editor’s reasons for rejecting your stories have everything to do with how the story clicks with them, how it matches what they’re looking for, and the quality of the writing.  Their reasons have nothing to do with you personally.

The flip side of that should be obvious.  An editor’s reasons for accepting a story have to do with the same criteria, and the writing quality is the only one of those criteria within your control.  They don’t necessarily know you’re a raw beginner.  It’s every editor’s dream to latch onto a beginning writer who shows considerable talent; they all want to be in at the start of a best-selling author’s career.  All famous authors started out as beginners, tentatively sending out their work and wondering if it was good enough.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if you sent your story to a semi-pro, or token market, not knowing that a pro market would have accepted it?  That’s why I say to aim high, then with each rejection, work your way down.

Later, as you gain experience and have some publication credits, you may establish relationships with one or more markets.  At that point, those publishers may well move to the top of your market listings.  Considerations other than payment alone may drive your priorities.

I welcome your comments about the advice I’ve offered.  If you follow it and get your first story approved at a pro market, one person you should be sure to thank is—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

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Pantzers vs. Plotters

One of the ways writers differ is in the type of preparation work they do before the first draft.  Some, called pantzers, write that draft “from the seat of their pants.”  Plotters, by contrast, organize and lay out their story’s plot and characters within some sort of outline before writing one word of the story.

Aries vs. VirgoThese two approaches might be epitomized by two zodiac signs, and the personality traits attributed to each.  Aries is characterized by impulsiveness and rushing right ahead—a pantzer.  Virgo is characterized by analysis and careful prior thought—a plotter.  Astrology is bunk, of course, but that comparison gave me an image for this blog entry.

Which type are you?  Is one approach better than the other?

Here are some advantages the pantzers claim:

  • I write stories faster, without having to do all that preparatory work first.  While the plotter is still doing her careful outline, I’m a quarter done with my first draft.
  • My writing has a sense of spontaneity, of natural flow; since I don’t know what is going to happen next, neither do my readers.
  • I’ve learned to trust my instincts.  I’ll figure out which way to go when I get there.  The story has its own direction, and I’ll figure it out.
  • I write with a feeling of freedom, without having added a constricting, constraining outline.  If I used an outline, I’d feel like I shackled myself.

But the plotters counter with the benefits of their method:

  • I dispute the pantzers claim of writing faster.  I think plotting helps me avoid getting stuck.
  • Good prior planning helps me avoid the kind of re-writing pantzers do to add in earlier parts so the later parts make sense.
  • Without a plot outline and some character sketches, I’d lose focus, forget where I’m going, and write aimlessly.
  • I write with a sense of comfort knowing I’ve got things all planned out.

I suspect this is really a sort of spectrum, a continuum of ways to write, and that very few people are really located at the extreme ends.  That is, I suspect pantzers do a little bit more pre-plotting than they’re willing to admit, even if the organization is not written down.  For their part, plotters aren’t always so wedded to their outlines as they think; they’ll deviate if the story takes off in a different direction as they write.

Further, authors may well move back and forth along that spectrum as their career progresses.  They may even find some stories require more pre-planning than others, so they become adept at both methods.  My guess—and it’s only a guess—is that among the more accomplished and prolific authors there are more pantzers than plotters.  I think they’ve developed sufficient writing skills so they no longer need a written outline and have come to trust their abilities in avoiding, or writing their way out of, plot problems.

As for me, I’m further over toward the plotter side, though I’ve been exhibiting pantzer tendencies lately.  Those who adhere to the snowflake method of writing are definite plotters.  Most of the writing software packages out there are dedicated to plotters.  Pantzers would find the snowflake and such writing software quite frustrating.

So, in this battle of pantzers vs. plotters, who wins?  Naturally, you do!  You can choose how to write your stories in the manner that suits you best.  You can change that method later if you want, depending on what ends up working for you.  Please leave me a comment letting me know whether you’re a pantzer or a plotter, and why.  It’s okay to share your secret with the Internet, and with—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

 

 

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15 Writing Virtues

Many people believe you aren’t just stuck with the way you are now, that you can better yourself by persistent act of will.  I’m one of them, but let me just focus on self-help as it applies to the writing of fiction.

Benjamin_Franklin_1767Benjamin Franklin was an early example of someone who developed a program of self-improvement.  His method was to list thirteen virtues along with a brief description, then he would set about to focus on one virtue per week.  Franklin actually kept a log of this, giving himself a black mark on days he fell short.  Presumably, by focusing on one virtue at a time, it did not mean he was abandoning the others during that week.

Examples of his virtues include:

1. Temperance.  Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

4. Resolution.  Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s list of virtues, I’ll offer some virtues of writing fiction.  I’ve grouped them into ‘process’ virtues dealing with how you write, and ‘product’ virtues dealing with aspects of the manuscript itself.

The Poseidon’s Scribe 15 Virtues of Fiction Writing

Process Virtues

1.  ProductivityFill hours with writing, not researching or time-wasting activity.

2.  Focus.  Turn off your inner editor during the first draft.

3.  Humility.  Seek other trusted people to critique your work; be receptive.

4.  Excellence.  Only submit work you’re proud of.

5.  DoggednessBe persistent in submitting to markets; be unshaken by rejections.

Product Virtues.

6.  Relevance.  Ensure your work passes the ‘So What?’ test.

7.  AppealHook readers from the first paragraph.

8.  Engagement.  Put your characters in conflict with something or someone; make the story about conflict resolution.

9.  Empathy.  Create vivid, engaging characters.

10.  Action.  Weave logical, interesting plots with appropriate causes and effects.

11.  Placement.  Provide clear but unobtrusive descriptions of the story setting, without overshadowing character or plot.

12.  Meaning.  Ensure your story’s theme explores eternal human truths.

13.  Style. Seek your own voice, then follow it.

14.  Communication.  Ensure your characters’ dialogue is appropriate and advances the plot.  (Mentioned here, here, and here.)

15.  Skill.  Salt your tales with symbolism and appropriate metaphors.

Your list would likely be different.  One way to go about it is to examine critiques of your fiction you receive from members of your critique group, from editors, etc.  Are there repeated criticisms?  Turn them around and express them as a positive affirmation or goal, not as a negative to avoid.  Those goals represent things to work on, and would be on your own list of virtues.

George Carlin fans would likely point out to me that there’s no such thing as self-help.  People who get their list of virtues from their critique group, or from this blog post, aren’t exactly engaged in self-help, since they got help from others.  Moreover, if beginning writers truly helped themselves get better, then they didn’t need help.  Witty gags aside, it can be a comfort to a struggling writer that there exist methods for improvement, but all I offer is a framework for starting; the writer must shoulder the burden of actually doing the work to improve her writing.

I’d love to hear if you’ve found my list useful, or if you’ve developed your own list, or even if you’ve embarked on a completely different method of improving your writing.  Let me know in your comments to this blog entry.  For now, back to improving his writing goes—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

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Tightening the Screws

Today I’m discussing why and how writers increase conflict in their stories.  Long-term fans of this site with keen memories will recall that I promised to get to this topic in a previous blog entry.  Far be it from me to let you down.

Conflict is a necessary part of all stories and it’s a good idea to ramp up the level of conflict as your story proceeds, both to hold your reader’s interest by building tension, and to subject your protagonist to a progressively more difficult test of character, forcing him or her to confront inner fears or character flaws.

220px-Jurassic_Park_posterLet’s look at a couple of examples.  In the 1993 movie “Jurassic Park,” directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, we see a gradual step-up in conflict.  The central protagonist, Dr. Alan Grant, is persuaded to leave a paleontological dig to conduct a review of a theme park.  Once there he is awed that the park engineers have re-created living dinosaurs.  He is put in close contact with children, which he dislikes.  When part of the park’s security system is deactivated, a Tyrannosaurus attacks the group.  Grant and the children must spend the night in the park, with predatory dinosaurs on the loose.  They encounter cunning Velociraptors, and finally both Velociraptors and the Tyrannosaurus.

Fiddler_on_the_roof_posterConflict need not be physical, or even dangerous.  In the 1964 musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, the conflict is of a different nature but also increases.  The village milkman, Tevye, must first contend with the fact that his eldest daughter has chosen her own husband against tradition and his wishes.  Then his second daughter likewise makes her own marital match, but with a political and cultural radical.  Later his third daughter seeks to marry outside the Jewish faith.  Finally, on orders from the Tsar, Russian authorities expel the Jewish villagers from their town.

Notice how, in each case, the author chooses plot events that begin with small conflicts and then escalates, figuratively tightening thumbscrew devicethe screws as with the medieval torture device, progressively challenging the characters with more taxing situations.  Just as the protagonist resolves or comes to terms with one disaster, a worse one occurs.  Moreover, the nature of the conflicts is such that they strike at a character flaw.  In Dr. Grant’s case, it’s his dislike of children.  In Tevye’s case, it’s his over-reliance on tradition.  The protagonists are forced to grapple with their own weakness and try to overcome it.

It’s sad, in a way, that writers must put their characters through the torture of increasing conflict intensity, just for the sake of reader enjoyment.  But as long as the characters stay imaginary, it’s all legal, so ease your mind about that.  You’re welcome to comment on this topic of increasing the level of conflict.  I’ll return now to my Work in Progress (WIP).  Please don’t mind any screams you might hear as the screws get tightened by—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

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