Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writing Your Story in Three Acts


   Are you a planner, or do you write by the seat of your pants? I do a bit of both, but one thing I’ve learned is that I do need to have a rough outline in my head before I get started, to keep me on the straight and narrow as I write, but the small details and the scenes can be put in on the fly.
    In other words, I need a structure. For an even better metaphor, think about building a house. If you don’t have a frame and a foundation, it doesn’t matter how fancy the roof and the windows are, it’s going to collapse. If you’ve got a strong base, you can change your mind a zillion times about paint color and flooring and trim and siding and roofing, and the house will still stand.
So how much structure am I talking about here?
    I’m talking about a Beginning, a Middle, and an End. Three Acts.
   I’m not talking about a huge outline, or a detailed board with sticky notes and highlighters. I’m talking about just enough to have a guidepost as you make your way through the story. Guideposts help me keep on the path of the story I’ve planned, and if there’s a major roadblock or plot problem as I’m going I still have a light at the end (or the middle) of the tunnel to make sure I haven’t strayed too far. Too much detail in an outline makes me feel like I’ve screwed up if I follow the rabbit down the hole, which is sometimes the right thing to do. I need just enough to keep it moving forward.
    The best way to see what I’m talking about is to grab your favorite novel, and break it down. Write one sentence that captures the first part, one sentence that captures the middle part, and one sentence that captures the end.
   One book that I find does this well is Holes, a middle grade novel, that actually has at least three, three act structures running through it. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read it, or seen the movie version. It’s a quick read, if you haven’t yet picked it up, and well worth it to see what I mean.

  • Beginning: Elya Yelnats goes to see Madame Zeroni about winning his love. 
  • Middle: Elya carries the pig up the mountain and otherwise does what Madame Zeroni tells him, but doesn’t come back for Madame Zeroni and ends up walking away from his love.
  • End: Stanley Yelnats (in modern day) carries Zero up the mountain, breaking the curse

  • Beginning: Kate Barlow teaches at a local school and falls in love with Sam the onion farmer
  • Middle: Their romance is discovered by the town bully and Kate Barlow takes revenge, becoming Kissing Kate Barlow
  • End: The town bully’s granddaughter runs the juvenile delinquency camp Stanley ends up in, digging holes to look for Kissing Kate Barlow’s treasure; Stanley and Zero find it first.

  • Beginning: Stanley Yelnats and his family talk about how their family has no luck but bad, they tell the story of their family curse, and his father’s failed inventions are all over their apartment
  • Middle: Stanley gets in trouble for stealing Sweetfeet’s donated cleats, and gets sent to the juvenile delinquency camp
  • End: Stanley and Zero run away, find the spring Stanley’s grandfather found after Kissing Kate Barlow stole his fortune, and find the fortune that saves his family, as well as the secret to solving his father’s invention, foot odor spray.

    Pick your favorite book and try to see if you can pick out the three acts. Is there more than one story in three acts - many times this is true.
    Once you’ve figured out how to divide a story, how does the story in your head break down into three acts? It’s a good way to start figuring out how to structure your story. Once the structure is there, it’s the time to put up the walls, and decide how to make it yours.

©2014 Addie King

Addie J. King is an attorney by day, and author by nights, evenings, weekends, and whenever else she can find a spare moment. Her short story “Poltergeist on Aisle Fourteen” was published in Mystery Times Ten 2011 by Buddhapuss Ink, and an essay entitled, “Building Believable Legal Systems in Science Fiction and Fantasy” was published in Eighth Day Genesis; A Worldbuilding Codex for Writers and Creatives by Alliteration Ink. Her novels, The Grimm Legacy, The Andersen Ancestry and The Wonderland Woes are available now from Musa Publishing. She is currently working on the fourth book, The Bunyon Barter. You can follow her at:,, Twitter @addiejking, and Facebook Addie J. King

Thank you Addie! Buddhapuss Ink LLC is proud to be a small, but solid house known for great fiction and nonfiction books, written for readers with brains, by authors who have more than just one book in them.
READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series and that we'll see you again next week when our guest will be Martie Ingebretse telling us  where she finds her writing inspiration . Until then,  "Butt in chair, WRITE!
~ The Black Cat

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Small Press, Indie Press, Is There a Difference?

 Is there a difference between a small press and an indie publisher? Or are they the same thing?
At one time, small press and independent (indie) press simply meant, a publisher that is independently owned. Such a press is one that operates independent of large publishing corporations, such as Simon and Schuster, Penguin Random House and HarperCollins.
More and more, though, you hear writers say their books are “indie published” instead of using the term “self-published.” An author whose lagging sales meant her big-name publisher was less than interested in her new work decided to “go indie.” In other words, she intended to self-publish. Amazon even uses indie to refer to their self-publishing service. The Kindle Indie Bookstore website states “‘Indie’ is hard to define, but anything cool, creative and different is ‘indie,’” a definition that I find a little squishy when it comes to publishing.
The shift in the meaning of indie has been coming for a long time. As far back as 2008, a book titled Indie Publishing: How to Design and Publish Your Own Book touted: “Once referred to derisively as vanity publishing, self-published books are finally taking their place alongside more accepted indie categories such as music, film, and theater.”
When you consider the term in this light, indie doesn’t have the negative connotations that vanity does. Perception is everything.
What, then, defines a small press? A small press is an independent publisher that’s, well, small. They typically publish less than ten titles a year, depending on their resources. Small presses may specialize in a niche market often overlooked by big publishing houses. They are not driven by shareholders demanding huge profits, so they can take chances on authors and titles that a big publisher might not, and they take pride in this. They are typically more active in the editing, marketing and distribution of their books than a tight-fisted corporate publisher. Small presses make up approximately half the market share of the book publishing industry.
The most important difference between a small press and an indie/self-publisher is that a small press does not charge the author to publish their book. A small press may not be able to pay large or any advances, but they will not ask an author for money.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association states on their website, “No matter where you encounter it in the publishing process, a fee or a requirement to purchase something is a sign either of a vanity operation or a self publisher.” []
If you’re looking for a publisher, be aware of this shift in meaning: an indie publisher may simply be a self-publishing service. Check for hidden fees or subsidy requirements. Beyond that, look at what titles the press has published, where and how their books are sold, and if they’re selling. Visit their websites. Email their authors. Check around. If you intend to go indie, or self-publish, write well, plan ahead, and do whatever it takes to earn your book the respect it deserves.
©2014 Linda K. Sienkiewicz

Sienkiewicz is a writer and artist who's always in search of a good story. Her poetry, short stories and essays have appeared in over fifty literary journals in print and online, and among her awards are a poetry chapbook and Pushcart Prize Nomination. She has an MFA in Fiction from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Her first novel, In the Context of Love will be released in July 2015 by Buddhapuss Ink LLC.

 Thanks Linda, for another terrific piece! Buddhapuss Ink LLC is proud to be a small, but solid house known for great fiction and nonfiction books, written for readers with brains by authors who have more than just one book in them.
READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series and that we'll see you again next week when our guest poster Addie King writes about Telling a Story in Three Acts. Till then, "Butt in chair, WRITE!
~ The Black Cat

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What's in a Name?

By Georgia Ruth

Five years ago, I tagged the main character in my WIP (Work in Progress), the warm, sturdy, uncomplicated name of “Maggie.” After several agent rejections, I did an extensive rewrite, during which I critically considered every facet of the story, including names. At that time, Maggie was already the name of a main character in two popular recent novels. I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to steal part of their success. More importantly, it was the name of a new critique partner. I didn’t want her to think that my fictional friend, particularly some negative characteristics, had anything to do with her. So I decided to change the name.

How about Samantha? Excellent choice. For many months she was Samantha. The name was smart, snappy, and her friends could call her “Sam.” But Samantha sounded like somebody who knew what she wanted, and my character did not.

Then I heard the name “Vanessa.” I thought of soft and vulnerable, a southern name that her mother would have chosen for an only child. To her coworkers, she could be “Van,” short and direct.
I looked up various naming websites and learned that, in Greek, the name meant “butterfly.” Perfect, because this lady undergoes a change from battered wife to confident partner. Another opinion: “hot, beautiful.” Just what I wanted. Then I found an unusual philosophy website seeking to prove that names shape life and suggesting “Vanessa” had an expressive, affectionate nature and responded quickly through her feelings. Yes, that’s her. Somebody on the Urban Dictionary said it perfectly: “not in favor of rain, but loves thunderstorms.” None of this research would become part of the manuscript, but it gave me a connection to the image in my head. For this character, the decision is emotional. She continues to be Vanessa.

In other stories, I have named characters based on historical data. My Fiji story boils with tension between three characters who represent three ancient cultures in 650 AD. The names are an imaginative reference to types of people with different lifestyles. In this novella, Bahram is the survivor of a shipwreck who wants to industrialize a tiny island where the tribe is weakened by smallpox. “Bahram” was a name of a Sassanid king in ancient times when Muslims overran the Persians whose main religion was Zoroastrianism.

There is continual conflict between Bahram and Lapita, the natives’ royal descendant trying to hold on to the legends of her ancestors. Her name represents the mysterious lost culture that migrated out of East Asia around 500 BC and whose artifacts are found on Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

Melane is the chief’s widow whose child will lead the survivors in a new era. The name “Melane” calls to mind the possible evolution of contemporary Melanesians, an ethnic group that inhabits the islands in this region. None of this information is necessary to understand the plot, but it helped me frame a premise for a collision of nomadic tribes. The fantasy is titled Rampart of the Phoenix.

There are no hard rules for naming characters, but I advise caution using protagonist names that start with the same first letter. As a reader, I have often had to backtrack to make sure the character on the page I am reading is not the same one introduced earlier. For example, Martin and Mason.  Besides, that sounds like a law office! And two main characters like Brian and Brittney sound like a dance team. Also, I have noticed that multiple characters with a “y” ending tends to fluff the mood of the writing. As in Stacey, Christy, and Holly, or even with the “ie” as in Angie. I also avoid names that rhyme. Of course, this is all my humble opinion polished by reading a book a week.

Sam Hilliard’s mystery novel The Last Track published by Buddhapuss Ink is an example of what I try to accomplish. The main character is a psychic tracker named Mike Brody, a strong American name with a dash of Irish intrigue. His ex-wife is Jessica, a distinctive but feminine name calling to mind a mother fiercely protective of their child Andy. The reader expects a no-nonsense approach from a detective named Lisbeth McCarthy, a modern twist to an old world favorite. One protagonist is named “Crotty”, a harsh, ugly name that indicates his character. Sam Hilliard has developed a legion of fans who are requesting a sequel, and I understand from his website that it is on the way.

I have a speculative story coming out in the Sisters in Crime 2015 anthology Fish or Cut Bait. The main characters are an elderly couple who live on “The Mountain Top” and are visited by a couple of backwoods neighbors in a scenario possible in a government breakdown. One of the bad guys is named “Cooter.” When I was at Dollar General one day, the clerk waved goodbye to a Cooter who looked exactly like the character in my head. The good guy is Jeff, a retired electrician from Atlanta. At the time of the first draft, I knew there was a Jeff’s Electric in Atlanta! When I have real people to be concerned about in a dark future, the story becomes real to me.

In other words, I get my names from all over. When they have meaning for me and fertilize my imagination, I can step into an alternative world and take my reader along because I know my way. 

Writing is so much fun. Enjoy!

© 2014 Georgia Ruth

Georgia lives in the foothills of North Carolina and writes a historical blog about her neighbors who have deep roots in the area: She is a member of Short Mystery Fiction Society and has short stories published online for Stupefying Stories and Bethlehem Writers Roundtable and in print Mystery Times Ten 2013. New stories for That Mysterious Woman from Mozark Press, History and Mystery, Oh My, and the Sisters in Crime anthology Fish or Cut Bait will be published soon.

Our thanks to Georgia, for a terrific piece on what can be a difficult task for writers - finding the right name for their characters!
REMINDER: The dealine for entries in our Mystery Times 2014 Writing Competition is drawing close! Check out the rules HERE, then get your entry in!
READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series and that we'll see you again next week when Linda K. Siekiewciz makes a repeat appearance to discuss the topic - Small vs. Large Presses.
Till then: "Butt in chair, WRITE!"

~ The Black Cat