Writing with Pizzazz!
by Marie E. Bast
Writing is like baking a cake it requires the right recipe. Without a good recipe, the cake will fail and so will your story. But if you mix all the right ingredients and bake it, the cake will rise to success.
However, like any good cake, it needs a delicious topping or decoration to attract the buyers’ eye. Humans are visual people and we judge the package first by sight and sample. Will yours pass the taste test?
Writing, like baking, demands practice.
I’d send out manuscript after manuscript, sometimes an article, devotion or short story, and they would return rejected. I read craft books, attended writers conferences, workshops, practiced my skills, but still rejection.
My biggest problem was beginning and ending, or sometimes the middle. My leads weren’t catchy and didn’t engage the taste buds of the reader. They wanted a flavorful bite that melted in their mouth so they couldn’t put the fork down. Sometimes the endings went flat—no emotional satisfaction.
Ask yourself, is it pleasing, interesting, informative, thrilling, delightful, mysterious, or romantic. Read and sample. Did it engage and leave you wanting more? If it doesn’t taste good to you, your reader won’t like it either.
Here’s the recipe…
The right ingredients
I was slow to incorporate one essential ingredient—becoming a well-read person. Well-read writers read newspapers, magazines, and books…both fiction and nonfiction. They read drama, humor, suspense, thrillers, action-adventure, romance, and historical books. They read everything and anything to increase knowledge, learn multiple techniques, and enhance skill.
The bestseller listing becomes a type of cookbook; it’s full of delicious offerings from expert cooks. How do we become successful like them? By paying attention to how they glaze or frost their work with such things as new trends. Study the market and take notice—what’s hot this season—cowboy stories, fantasy, action, mystery, thriller or romance.
From the time the sun squeezes through the blinds, I’m planning, looking for new ideas, and writing. I turn newspaper pages, looking for incidents to tuck away for just the right time. Sometimes I awake at 2:00 a.m., remembering a dream I need to capture, or something cute my grandson said, and I run and enter it in my journal.
Pick the freshest ingredients, mix well, and bake to produce a new culinary delight.
As writers, we often hear we need to mix it: write every day with focus and discipline then write tight and edit.
Many workshops and craft books dwell on editing out all unnecessary words. Be careful. Don’t eliminate so much salt that the soup goes flat, or leave off the whip cream, a necessary part of the cobbler. Whoever heard of pie a la mode without the a la mode? Sometimes that happens when we peel away too much of the fluff…we lose too much of the good stuff. When we throw away the skin of the apple, we lose the best part of the apple, the good stuff—the nutrients.
If you read a manuscript and don’t laugh, cry, crave more, or feel satisfied, then your writing has lost its flavor. It needs spicing, a glaze, sprinkle of almonds, or topping with a delectable wine sauce.
How do cooks discover the secret flavoring for their signature dish? They sample. When trying new cuisine, they keep stirring, adding and tasting until its perfecto.
Reread and reedit as many times as it takes. Most recipes developed in the kitchen never had success with the first try. To coax a robust flavor, usually adding more salt, pepper, or a spice improves the taste for a great read.
But there are lots of different taste buds out there. Some like sweets, some like spicy foods, and others are into vegetarian, vegan, or ethnic food. Not everyone is going to like the pot of chili you created so don’t be offended at that.
One writing instructor once told me that not every idea makes a good article. I disagree. It’s all in how you cook and flavor it, and in writing that also includes research. Tell the reader something they don’t know. Wrap it in humor, simmer it with mystery, cook it slow all day, or stir-fry and give it action. You have to determine the correct way to present your dish. Is it going to be finger food, bib and napkin, formal with three forks and two spoons, or first, -second, or -third person?
Revising the recipe
Don’t serve what you know isn’t your best recipe. Good cooks practice and so do good writers. Have someone else read your work aloud while you listen. One time my husband started reading one of my manuscripts aloud and I didn’t let him finish, it had flaws. He stumbled through the words like he’d bitten into lumpy gravy, or stringy meat. The words waded up in his mouth and didn’t flow smoothly.
I decided to look at my writing objectively and asked myself, “Would I buy this book?”
“No.” It was flat as a pancake. Looked like a cake that didn’t rise, or breakfast roll too tired to get up.
When I mentioned this to a fellow writer, she said, “Your writing needs Pizzazz.”
Here’s how I corrected my writing recipe.
I had deflated the fluff, stripped-off the icing, basically, made diet food that was tasteless and unappealing to serve. We all want to digest something that tastes fantastic and gives us satisfaction, makes us feel good, a reward for our efforts of reading it and tasting it. We want excitement.
My husband once told me it was my cooking and baking that first attracted him to me, like a mouse to crumbs. He loves to eat…and read.
Self-edit or hire an editor, but polish the writing for grammar, story, and plotting. However, that requires a keen eye and ear (for read-back). Decorate it to add fine details, like adding red food coloring to make a red velvet cake or sculpting it into an exciting football scene, romantic heart-shape, knife dripping with blood for an intriguing thriller…then frost.
An author who had published more than one hundred books once told me she edits her manuscripts between thirty and fifty times, sculpting the rough surface little by little until the beauty of the new form shows through. It’s about understanding the recipe and practicing continually.
Folk lore always said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. The way to a reader’s library shelf is the same way—by cooking up a storm.
So don’t be afraid to flavor, to smother the dish in a rich sauce, or give it a new refreshing taste. The world is your sampler and there is a variety of taste buds out there.
Anyone can bake, and anyone can write—if you have the right recipe. Cook, bake, and try new writing creations. Sample and taste.
Writing, like baking, is a smorgasbord of adventure…enjoy it. Write it!
Writing A Novel That Sells
by Marie E. Bast
Does anyone really know how to write a best seller?
Not really, not unless they have a crystal ball that will let them peer into the minds and hearts of the readers. I’m not talking about established bestselling authors who have large followings like Nora Roberts, John Grisham, or James Patterson. I’m talking about you and me when we’re just starting our career.
How do we find that special story or niche market, that little pocket or style of writing which will appeal to the reader? Is it even possible to peer into the minds and hearts of the reader and capture that story they are craving to read, or maybe they don’t even know they are craving to read it yet? However, are we off base here? Aren’t writing and selling two different sides of the writer’s coin?
Yes, they are different sides of the writer’s craft, but they are both required. In today’s market place with millions of books and thousands of writers, marketing is just as important as writing. So here’s what I did. I started out by researching the different genres and learned that the Amish novel genre was very popular. Then I researched the different publishers to see what they were currently accepting. I leaned that Harlequin’s Love Inspired line was looking for Amish. I loved to visit the Amish, in fact, I only live 64-miles from the Amish. So I wrote and edited my first Amish novel, The Amish Baker, for 18 months. I sent it out to my critique group and edited it again. I entered it in the Harlequin’s Love Inspired Amish blitz where they were asking for writers to send in manuscripts. Mine was selected for publishing. When it first released, it hit the Publishers Weekly bestseller list. My second Amish book, The Amish Marriage Bargain, was on The Publishers Weekly bestseller list for three-consecutives weeks when it released.
Here are four valuable steps that will speed you down the road to success.
Plan your strategy early for marketing
Before you even start to write, plan your marketing strategy. It’ll pay off when you are ready to publish. Start with building your social media. I can’t stress this enough. Followers, friends, and relatives will be anxious to share the news of your forth-coming book. In addition, don’t make your social media just about you. Socialize. What does your followers like? Maybe share recipes, vacation spots, adorable animals and the cute things they do, etc. Socializing helps you grow your followers.
Learn the craft of writing—well
Really learn the craft of writing. Let me repeat that. Learn the craft of writing. Study hard. Read the best sellers and dissect them. What propelled those books to stardom? Was it the writing, or the amount of research the author included, maybe it was a unique style, or a subject matter they presented in a different way; for instance, the heroine was locked in an attic, or was held against her will in an insane asylum, or a man disguised as a woman trying to hire into a nanny’s position. Attend writer’s conferences, join writer’s organizations, take workshops, or classes. Study, study, study the craft. Here are my go-to resource books: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks; Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson; Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass; The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass; from the inside…Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck; Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren. There are numerous books out there to help you learn the craft of writing.
You have the tools now write
Write every day. Submit to magazines, newspapers, blogs, to anthologies, even write short posts on social media. This might help you find your niche. Join critiques groups and let them read your work and give you feedback. Enter contests that give back critiques and feedback, these are invaluable for honing your writing. Many contests have agents and editors that review the finalists’ writing. Even if you don’t win, they give great pointers and feedback. Learn from your mistakes, I did.
It all comes down to this
Where do you go from here? Your writing needs to be unique, and it needs conflict, tension, maybe deception or betrayal if it fits the plotting, and it needs discovery. What will the reader discover about themselves, about human nature, about the world around them or the storyworld you have plunged them into? What’s going to make your story an exciting, enjoyable book that the reader cannot put down? Lastly—without feeling, writing becomes two-dimensional. When they close the book, make that last page sing with some kind of emotion to make the reader remember it.
How to judge if a book has a Plot 2 Good 2 Forget
1) You can’t put the book down.
2) The donut in the kitchen is still there calling your name.
3) You say to yourself, just one more chapter before a bathroom break.
4) Six o’clock. “Honey, let’s go out and eat tonight, I didn’t have time to cook.”
5) You love to hate the antagonist.
6) Can’t wait to see if the protagonist figures out what the antagonist has done.
7) The hero and heroine get together after battling overwhelming obstacles.
8) You wake up in the middle of the night and grab the book to read one more chapter.
9) You mention the book in the PTA newsletter.
10) The story haunts you while you’re at work; you pick up KFC on the way home.
11) You don’t have a desire to check Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
12) While your husband tells you about his day, your mind drifts back to storyworld.
13) You discuss the plot at work, on your blog, and with friends.
14) You check Amazon to see if the author has a new book out before you finish this book.
Writing with Feeling
By Marie E. Bast
If you’re a golfer, you know that if your stance feels right, your hands are placed properly on the club, your swing has a good arc and carry through, and your contact with the ball hits in the sweet spot, you’re ball will launch beautifully into the air. It’s the same with bowling. When you’re ball hits in the pocket at the proper place and speed, it’s a strike.
What does all this mean to a writer?
For your writing to hit the pocket, or the heart of a reader, it must show feeling. Your writing is that ball sailing across the page toward the pocket. That doesn’t mean just thinking of a good chapter-opening hook or a chapter-closing hook. It means the whole chapter needs to grab the reader and not let them go.
What does that look like, or better yet, feel like?
It means your chapters need to be constructed with the right emotion (swing) that can dance the words across the page in such a way that it holds the reader’s attention until the very end of the story. Those words must create interest, they must promise excitement through tension and passion, and they must call the reader to action, which is namely, to keep on reading.
It is if you keep your reader in mind as you write. Here are ten steps to help you construct that perfect story.
- Make sure your story flows logically. Simply put, follow the cause and effect method. Don’t have her jump off a building if she hasn’t climbed to the top yet.
- In golfing, before the golfer hits the ball, he has to be able to imagine the line and aim toward the flag at the hole. Likewise, the writer has to plan what each chapter needs to contain in order to build a successful story that will carry the reader’s interest to the end.
- For a story to have depth, the hero needs a backstory that adds complications to their life, affects their decisions, and interferes with the choices they make. What’s your hero and heroine’s backstory? Sprinkle it throughout the story. As the story develops, the reader needs to understand why the hero acts the way he does.
- Reveal character mood through scenery and action, through clothing and habits.
- Paint the story with powerful verbs and descriptive nouns. Don’t just say he got in his car. Show it. He wiped a smudge from his pristine Jaguar before he lowered himself onto the buttery-soft seat. His hand didn’t touch hers; it caressed hers. His love didn’t just warm her, it wrapped around her heart.
- Punch up your story with hooks and a compelling emotional journey for your hero/heroine that will draw in the reader and mesmerize them until the end of the story.
- Conflict should follow your hero/heroine like a puppy. A problem, new twist, unknown information should cling to each chapter and plague the character. Love, happiness, the solution to solving the mystery or catching the killer in a thriller, should always flea ahead of the hero/heroine just out of arm’s reach. Make them suffer. Don’t give them what they want. Make it a journey to chase that dream.
- Storytelling thrives on tension, emotion, and passion and that translates to a hunger for the reader to stick with the story until it ends.
- Keep the readers guessing. Make the story unique and fresh. Paint the story with coloring that will interest, excite, and draw the reader’s core curiosity. It’s human nature for a human to be curious. It’s how electricity, the automobile, and the airplane were invented and why the caveman ventured out of his cave. They were curious. The reader, too, wants to see if the heroine and her love interest get together, if they extinguish the fire in time, if the plane lands safely, and if the hero gets what he wants after struggling all the way through the story.
- Tip: The best story-building tool that I found is the book Story Engineering: Mastering The 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks.
5 Reasons a Writer Should Take Time to Refresh
As writers, we are dedicated to our craft. Day and night, when an inspiration hits, we’ll stop eating, climb out of bed, or excuse ourselves from friends to jot something down. We write for hours and days on end to meet a deadline and finish a novel.
We have to write; it’s what we do. And if we aren’t writing, we are thinking about writing, or researching, or outlining, or plotting.
But don’t forget to take timeout for you. Even just a short break can give those creative juices time to refresh, replenish, and rev up the imagination for the next long stint at writing. Just like rest and recovery after exercise is important, breaks after writing is important to the writer. And here’s the reasons why…
- It helps you maintain a better mental balance.
- Short breaks give you time for short bursts of exercise. Studies show that 15-20 minutes of exercise helps you burn fat, stay healthy, and increase endorphins.
- That means, it can reduce stress and tension, re-energize your thinking, and add to mental alertness.
- Short bursts of exercise can give you an ‘endorphin rush’ and that is the reason why it makes you feel good. If writing has you uptight, take a break and go for a walk, run, exercise, or just talking with a friend can give you an endorphin rush. And what does that do? Endorphins can enhance pleasure and rev up the thinking and creativity process.
- The bottom-line: take enough time away from writing to re-energize body, mind, and writing.