Saturday, September 23, 2017

Simple Past Or Past Continuous Tense Exercise

Fill in the blanks with an appropriate tense form. Answers 1. I was sleeping. I didn’t hear the door bell. 2. I phoned her many… Continue reading
from English Grammar

Weekly Round-Up: Lost in Translation and Keeping in Touch

Every week our editors publish somewhere between 10 and 15 blog posts—but it can be hard to keep up amidst the busyness of everyday life. To make sure you never miss another post, we’ve created a new weekly round-up series. Each Saturday, find the previous week’s posts all in one place.

wr_iconMaking Connections

To learn how to connect with your readers, make sure you have your own email list. To learn how, read List Factors: How to Build Your Own Email List.

It takes hard work to write a novel, but translating a novel? That requires an additional set of skills. Read 5 Tips for Translating Crime Novels to learn more.

The Work of Writing

Taking care of a family is a full-time job. Writing is often also a full-time job. How can you do both? Read 6 Ways to Stay Creative as a Writer (When You’re a Parent) to find out.

Check out how one author learned important writing skills from his day job in Nine Lessons I Learned About Writing as a Trial Lawyer.

For skills that translate from one writing job to another, read 5 Things the Screenwriting Business Taught Me About Writing.

To do the job well, you need the right tools. Check out Your Writing Voice: The Tools of the Trade to learn about strengthening your writing voice.

Agents and Opportunities

This week’s new literary agent alert is for Ann Leslie Tuttle of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. She is seeking all kinds of romance from contemporaries, historicals, and romantic suspense to paranormals and inspirationals.

You may be looking for a literary agent, but is it time yet? Learn When to Search for a Literary Agent.

Poetic Asides

For this week’s Wednesday Poetry Prompt, write an “information” poem.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Marketing Perspective of Query Letters: Turning Your Query Into Agent Bait

At some point in your writing life, you will have completed a manuscript and are ready to move forward on your path to become published.

First, acknowledge what you’ve accomplished! The how-to-write learning curve, for most writers, is extensive. It involves classes, attending writers’ conferences, and participation in critique groups. You’ve taken these steps and now your completed manuscript glows in the dark. Woohoo for you!

What now?

When your goal is to become traditionally published, you need the assistance of an industry professional (agent) to contact the most appropriate publisher and make a deal on your behalf.

Molli Nickell has been in the publishing business for over 30 years a a publisher, Time-Life editor, syndicated columnist, author, creative writing instructor, story doctor, marketing guru, and mentor to unpublished writers.

The process of agent acquisition is not a slam dunk: It requires a second, and relatively brief, learning curve as you shift from “telling” your story to “selling” your story. Why is this necessary? Because your target audience has changed from a potential book purchaser to a potential business partner (agent) who seeks product (manuscripts) to sell to book manufacturers (publishers) to order to generate revenue.

You introduce yourself to agents via a marketing document: the query letter.

If the word “query” creates sweaty palms and drives you seek the comfort of chocolate, potato chips, or adult beverage of your choice … relax. I’m about to introduce you to a fail-safe “core” marketing technique that has helped hundreds of writers create effective queries that grabbed and held agent interest from query to synopsis to sample manuscript pages.

Crafting a 350-word query is not rocket science. Millions of authors with books at Amazon and in bookstores nationwide, at some point, were clueless about how to write a query. But, they mastered the learning curve and landed agents to guide them from writer to author. So can you!

A bit of history: The publishing business has changed dramatically since the old days (ending in 2014) of snail mail. The submission process required effort and cost to print and mail manuscripts etc. Because of this, very few low-skilled author wannabees submitted their work to agents.

But then, whammo! Our world went digital. Emailed submissions replaced snail mail. Agents said “goodbye” to towering stacks of unopened query letters and manuscripts piled on desks, bookshelves, and floors.

However, an unintended consequence developed that impacts all writers: When the email submission flood gates opened wide, thousands of typing-enabled people who believed that since they possessed the tools of the writer (computers and keyboards) they were writers. They began to submit their work to agents. This created a non-ending tsunami of queries and manuscripts jamming agent inboxes.

The new challenge: competition for attention.

Agents or acquisition editors begin each day, latte in hand, as they scroll through inboxes. Enticing subject lines determine which emails are opened or deleted. Then, agents quick scan query first paragraphs, hoping to discover the next Clancy, Patterson, or Rowlings.

And yes, you read that correctly. The first paragraph. If this doesn’t reveal what agents need to know, “click” and the entire submission flies off to delete-ville. Yikes!

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

What is that something agents want to know immediately? What motivates them to read your query first paragraph and then scroll down to read the second? An enticing story core, presented immediately, does the trick. Agents want to know (immediately) the following about your story:

  1. Who is your protagonist?
  2. What does your protagonist want?
  3. Why do they want this?
  4. What could prevent them from achieving their goal?
  5. What is the terrible “or else” that might occur if they don’t get what they want?

Be smart. Be crystal clear about these, as demonstrated in the following first paragraph of a fictional query for Little Red Riding Hood:

Little Red skips through the forest, picnic basket overflowing with broccoli pizza, fresh watermelon, and double-chocolate brownies to share with granny. A sly predator intercepts Little Red, determines her destination, and suggests she pick wildflowers to enhance the overall dining experience with her granny. Preoccupied with flower selection, Little Red doesn’t notice the wolf’s abrupt departure. When she arrives at granny’s cottage and discovers the old woman is not herself, how will Little Red escape becoming a lunch entrée?

The story core:

  1. Who is the protagonist? Little Red Riding Hood.
  2. What does she want? To share lunch to granny.
  3. Why does she want this? She cherishes time spent with her beloved grandmother.
  4. What could prevent Little Red from achieving her goal? A hungry predator.
  5. What is the terrible “or else” that could occur if Little Red doesn’t get what she wants? She might become the main entrée.

NOTE: It is undeniably true that a wolf could not swallow an old woman wearing sensible shoes, armed with knitting needles, or snooze through a granny-ectomy.

C’mon already. It’s a fairy tale. OK?

HINT: Share this query first-paragraph technique with your writing pals. Suggest a fairy-tale query practice session. Doesn’t matter if they’re ready to begin their agent quest or not. Stress-free practice not only makes perfect, but also reduces query anxiety.

Here’s a second query example for Hair of the Dog, an adult action/adventure:

Horace “Fish” Fishbein, a former repo man turned private detective, takes on what should be a simple, Hollywood-type case for a six-figure fee. He’s hired to recover a missing poodle belonging to a jeweler who studded the dog’s collar with $3 million in hot diamonds. But, before Fish can determine all nuances of the situation, bodies begin to drop like outtakes on a cutting room floor, and police finger him as a serial killer. Can Fish escape the law while he collars the dog, proves his innocence, and avoids an encounter with a cross-dressing hit man who wants the diamonds for himself?

The story core:

  1. Who is the protagonist? Fish.
  2. What does he want? To recover $3 million in hot diamonds.
  3. Why does he want this? To garner a hefty finder’s fee.
  4. What could prevent Fish from achieving his goal? Inability to locate the missing dog, and avoid encounters with the police and a greedy hit man.
  5. What is the terrible “or else” that might occur if Fish doesn’t get what he wants? He’ll end up in the slammer or the ground.

To summarize: Just like everything in life, learning to write an effective query that grabs agent attention isn’t difficult when you approach it step-by-step. Once you determine your story core and include these vital elements in your first paragraph, end it with a tantalizing “or else” tease written as a question.

This motivates the agent to wonder, Hmmm. What happens? They’ll continue to read. The second paragraph expands story core elements but does not reveal the ending. The agent remains curious about the resolution and will read your synopsis (if included) to discover how the story ends. Hopefully, this results in a read of your sample pages, followed by a request to submit your entire manuscript. Your goal all along.

So, what’s in your personal story core?

  1. Who is the protagonist in your get-published quest? You.
  2. What do you want? To land an agent.
  3. Why do you want this? To attract professional assistance to guide you from writer to published author.
  4. What could prevent you from achieving your goal? Not knowing how to craft an agent-friendly query that proves you’re the real deal: a skilled writer with a saleable story.
  5. What is the terrible “or else” that might occur if you don’t get what you want? You won’t land an agent and may give up writing in favor of sky diving.

Truth be told, this happens often. Writers, discouraged after initial attempts at agent acquisition, turn to another activity (not necessarily sky diving). But, when they return to storytelling, they’re more determined than ever to become published. They improve their query writing skills and write a second novel. They land agents and break into the business. Their first manuscripts are revised and becomes their second published works.

Regardless of where you are on your get-published path, write on!

May the words be with you!

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at

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General Grammar Exercise

Fill in the blanks with an appropriate verb form. Answers 1. After he learnt his lesson, he went out to play cricket. 2. While I… Continue reading
from English Grammar

Your Writing Voice: The Tools of the Trade

We hear the word “voice” a lot in appraisals of writing. The term can be confusing. You might hear, “Aden’s voice is just so original!” or “The voice of this piece really punched me in the gut.” These are terrific compliments, but what exactly is voice? Most commonly, voice refers to how a writer’s unique word choice and syntax reflect her worldview, identity, or personality. So if someone tells you that your writing has a strong voice, he is expressing his appreciation for the singular stylistic fingerprint imbued in your essays/stories.

You’ve probably already got your own personal narrator voice—and practice will only improve it.

This guest post is an excerpt from Windy Lynn Harris‘ new book, Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published (Writer’s Digest Books). She’s a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She teaches the craft of writing online and in person. Learn more about Windy at

The Tools of the Trade

Your authentic voice can shine with a combination of diction, the details you select, images, syntax, and tone. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements and how to use them like a pro:

  • Diction refers to your choice of words. Words affect the reader’s experience when they are chosen with purpose. For example, instead of saying house, consider using the word mansion, cottage, or Victorian. Each of those words has a unique connotation. Consider the different effect you can create when you refer to a person as vain and when you refer to someone as proud. The word vain assigns a negative connotation to this person, while the word proud might reflect the same character traits but in a much more positive light. You can choose to be poetic, vulgar, literal, formal, or anything else in your prose and show it to your readers via diction. If you intend to entertain, choose playful words or an ironic combination of words. When you want to persuade, use straightforward, confident language.
  • Details include the facts, observations, and specific moments you choose to share in your story or essay. You can enhance the reader’s experience by choosing concrete details. For instance, a dented red Mustang is more descriptive than a car. Details encourage reader participation. Each word creates an opportunity for the reader to fill in the physical world he sees in your prose. You can also manipulate the reading experience through the number of details you include. When you use a handful of specific details in a paragraph, the reader leans in, gets closer to your story. When you use fewer details, the reader will feel a distance.
  • Imagery adds an extra layer to your prose through sensory details. These sensory details evoke a vivid experience for the reader. The tools at your disposal are the five senses: sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Using these, you can trigger pleasant or unpleasant emotions, create confusion or surprise, or be provocative—all through your choice of images.
  • Syntax is the order of your words, which creates the rhythm of your piece. You can manage this effect by varying your sentence length. Short sentences speed up momentum. Long ones slow down the action and let readers closely examine scenes. Repetition of certain words can also be an artistic choice.
  • Tone reveals your underlying attitude toward the characters/people and situations in your writing and your story’s/essay’s subject matter. Are you angry? Sad? Apologetic? Somber? Whatever your feelings about your topic, let your readers know. Tone is achieved through the combination of your diction and syntax and is emphasized through the details and imagery you choose. Readers perceive your tone by examining these elements. They connect to the material and its underlying meaning via your attitude.

10 Tips for Strengthening Your Voice

You’ll know you have a distinct voice when somebody says to you, “I would know your work anywhere.” Usually it’s a mentor or critique partner who says this to you first; later, you’ll hear it from readers. Honing your voice is important, but how do you make your current writing shine brighter? Try these ten tips:

  1. Expand your vocabulary. Read widely, study your thesaurus, and buy one of those “word of the day” calendars.
  2. Study sentence structure. Do you miss sentence diagramming? Me too! Go old school, and play with words again. Subject-verb-object, oh my!
  3. Give grammar another look. Even the most competent writer can benefit from brushing up on her grammar skills. Knowing the rules of grammar increases your confidence when you write—and saves you time in the editing stage.
  4. Magnify the details. Be specific and intimate in your descriptions of the people, settings, and actions on the page. Every word in dialogue, action, interiority, and narration counts. Choose your words with purpose.
  5. Get sensual. Make a list of sensory words for each of the five senses, and challenge yourself to use them. Add at least two to every essay or story you write.
  6. Take risks. Let your instincts guide your decisions. That word choice that you think might be a little too strange? Try it. You might love it. It might become your signature one of these days.
  7. Practice your hooks. Great essays and short stories begin with terrific first lines. What words could you choose to make that happen?
  8. Practice exits. Leave your readers with one last resonant line. Or even one great word. Plan to make every short story and essay memorable.
  9. Create lists. Make a list of things you care about, and then write about those things. They will become the themes in your writing life.
  10. Read, read, read. Reading is a great way to examine other writers’ choices. Study what makes their voice unique, and then experiment on your own pages.

To put it simply, strengthening your writing skills will strengthen your voice. The longer you write, the more developed your voice will become.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Phrasal Verbs With Come And Cut

This grammar exercise tests your understanding of common phrasal verbs. Answers 1. Pull hard and the two pieces will come apart. 2. I came across… Continue reading
from English Grammar

5 Things the Screenwriting Business Taught Me About Writing

A confession: I bristled at being called a “screenwriter” while jacket copy for Magicians Impossible, my debut novel, was being finalized. Everyone else wanted that facet of my biography in; I wanted it out. I didn’t want to be “screenwriter with debut novel,” which to most reading pegs said debut novel as “movie idea he turned into a novel in order to sell as a movie.” No I wanted to be a writer, full stop, and my novel to be just that—a novel. That sounds strange, I know; to be a screenwriter by trade is the dream of so many people, from Ottawa to Omaha and all points in between. It’s The Hollywood Dream, and for writers, landing that Hollywood Dream is the final rung in the ladder. Why wouldn’t I want to celebrate the fact I’ve defied the odds and managed to make a living of it?




Brad Abraham is a screenwriter, former journalist, comic book creator. and author, whose novel Magicians Impossible (Thomas Dunne Books) debuts this month. He spent nearly two decades in the showbiz trenches as a screenwriter-for-hire. But it took writing his first novel to make him realize how much the movie business taught him about writing, relationships, and life.

The hard truth of it is by the time Magicians came around I was tired. Tired of movies and TV, tired of having your words read only by producers and development executives. Tired of having things produced that had been through so many hands I barely recognized it as my own. Yet the writing of Magicians Impossible challenged everything I thought I knew about writing, and in its own way helped me to remember what I loved about writing in the first place. And in the end it was my years in screen trade that taught me five incredibly valuable lessons about writing, relationships, and about finding the joy.

1. How to tell a story. At its most basic level a screenplay is basically a set of instructions to production departments. It’s telling the production designer what the villain’s lair looks like. It’s telling the producers how much things will cost. It’s telling the actors what they’ll say. All these directions are affixed to a story’s structure. What happens to whom and when. Act One is your setup. Act Two, the complication. Act Three is your payoff. Much like a magic trick, the goal is to surprise the audience with the outcome. You may think you know how it all plays out; a good writer will satisfy that need, but find an unusual, unexpected way to reach that ending. A screenplay lives and dies by its structure. A solid one allows you to take flights of fancy, to divert, to experience the world; a weak one will leave you as lost as your audience. A novel has a structure too, and how much structure you want that novel to have depends on you. There are reams upon reams of books written about writing, but for most of us it comes down to this: Who is the hero, and what is their journey? What is the point of this story if not to follow a character or group of them, to see them face obstacles great and small, and emerge on the other side transformed into something else? Magicians Impossible is all about that transformation; about becoming the person you always wanted to be if only you hadn’t been afraid to take that first step. Everything that happens to every character in the novel springs off that theme, it may be Jason Bishop’s (Magicians’ central character) journey, but it’s the collective’s story.

2. How to solve a problem. I’m not talking “Conan contemplating on the Tree of Woe” problems. I’m not even talking “how can I get this character from A to B and then C” problems. No, I’m talking “the producer and development exec are sitting across from the table and staring at you and expecting you to come up with a fix to this story problem right now because if you can’t they’ll find someone who can” problems. It’s a uniquely film-TV experience, being on the spot like that; there’s no luxury of time to sip your mug of tea and stare thoughtfully at your work-in-progress. They want it now. So, you do. It might not be the solution, but it is a solution good enough to reassure them (and you) that you can come up with a fix. They want to see that you’re capable and willing to try different approaches and aren’t married to the words already on the page. In what we knowingly call “the biz,” it’s not so much about your first great idea as it is your tenth or twentieth. In writing this book, I was blessed with something I never had in the film world: the luxury of time—a full year from signing the contract to delivering the draft. Time to figure out where I was going. Time to figure out a course correction when I realized I was getting lost. Time to sip that mug of tea and stare thoughtfully at the work-in-progress. I had the time, but I was also used to writing from the trenches, to the point I was knocking down problems almost as soon as they popped up, finding solutions and implementing them before delivering the draft and saving my editor a pile of work.

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

3. How to take criticism. This is the big one. I’m not talking about audience or reader or critic reviews (though you will face those at some point). No, I’m talking about development people ripping your work to shreds in front of you, in front of other writers, in front of their interns. Screenwriters are basically big walking pieces of scar tissue, and how well you absorb this abuse will determine whether or not you have any kind of future in this business. Ever wonder why so many writers talk or joke about being drunk? This is why. This is actually a good thing, as it gives you this tough elephant hide to weather said criticism. Contrasting that with book publishing, it’s the difference between a sandpaper massage and an actual massage. This extends even to when I received my first, then second, then third rounds of edits. Years of screenwriting had conditioned me to taking my editor’s notes (and copy editor’s and line editor’s), reading them, and implementing them. It was actually my agent who pointed out to me that I didn’t need to make those changes—they were just suggestions. But they were good suggestions and if there’s anything writing in the showbiz trenches taught me is that a good idea is a good idea; all that matters is it ends up in the finished work. The biz also taught me that the biggest obstacle to your work is your own ego, and that if you can separate that ego from the work you can look at it more critically, and make those hard decisions, which in the case of Magicians Impossible meant tossing the entire third act of the book (and a good chunk of the second) and going at it again. Did it work? Well, that’s where reviews enter the picture (and that’s where your scar tissue comes in handy).

4. How to keep your friends close. If there’s any common DNA between movie and TV writing and book writing it’s the value of a good agent. Because as terrifying as a producer can be, they are all terrified of your agent. Nothing will chill a producer’s blood more than you saying “I’m not sure; let me check with my agent about that.” Agents are worth more than their weight in gold and the fact I’m still standing on this battlefield of entertainment is because of the agents and managers who, over the years, stood by me when it wasn’t convenient to do so. When I wasn’t commanding top dollar (or any dollar for that matter). When, to use the term, I “couldn’t get arrested in this town.” The ones who see the long game when you’re so focused on the immediate because that’s their job. The ones who never fail to tell you that despite your struggles and hardship you are good at what you do. My late manager was one of those people, and the aunt of the lead in Magicians Impossible is named after her. My current agent is one of those people too. In books, as in film, and in life, you’re only as good as the people who support you, and I’m fortunate to have the best standing by me.

5. How to find the joy. A producer I’ve worked for many times always asks when I’m delivering a script whether or not I “found the joy.” Meaning: “Was this fun? Did you enjoy the process? Despite all the notes and drafts and arguments and, did you hit that sweet spot where you felt some degree of happiness while working?” If the answer is “yes,” he pretty much accepts what I’ve given him before reading it. If not, or I obfuscate, there’s going to be more work ahead. Finding the joy has been my own personal way of gauging how I’m doing on anything I write. This is especially useful in screenwriting or “work-for-hire” jobs, because there inevitably comes a point when you feel you’ve delivered your best work, and they still want more changes, and it feels like every subsequent revision takes you further and further away from the one that (in your mind anyway) worked the best. That’s usually the time you start looking for an exit strategy, because you can only fake it for so long before they catch on. Finding the joy is crucial in writing because without it, what are you writing for? There’s much better ways to earn a living than this. I found the joy on Magicians not when I was at my best, but when I was at my very worst. When I’d finished that first draft and all I saw were problems. Plot problems. Character problems. Pacing and story problems. I had a lot of work ahead of me and had less than six months to fix it. So I did the only thing I could: take a break, walk away, read, relax, clear my head. Then, about a week after, a solution appeared to me, in a dream of all places. I saw the characters, I saw the story, I saw what needed to happen, and when I awoke, I had it—the excitement, the anticipation … the joy. If you’ve truly found the joy in writing, it’ll get you through your worst by showing you how you are at your very best.

When I began the very long journey into the world of Magicians Impossible, I wasn’t sure I would ever return to the film and TV worlds. I wasn’t sure I could go back to the high-pressure deadlines, the conflicts of personality, the on-the-fly problem solving; I wasn’t sure I could go back to studio and network notes. But what becoming a novelist taught me was that no matter the area of creative art, you’re at your best when you’re surrounded by like-minded creative types. Nothing will get your creative spark lit like another person who’s trod the same road as you, and like you just wants to find the joy.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at

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