Tag Archive for writing tips

Wanted: Reader Questions!

Post a question on my Goodreads page!

Post a question on my Goodreads page!

One of my favorite parts of author events is Q & A. I’ve been asked about plot, process, writer’s block, character development, dialogue, inspiration, marketing, sex scenes and a lot more. I love when my answers ignite a conversation that sheds a little more light on issues that interest readers and my fellow writers. Goodreads, essentially Facebook for folks who want to talk. share and review books, has taken note and now offers members an easy way to ask questions online. If you have a question, please click on over to my author page and post it. I will respond within 24 hours. Promise.

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Free Webinar: Making Intimacy More Appealing

“Ready for round two?” she whispered. “You bet,” he said.sexscenes copy

Round two in this case is a repeat – by request – of my free webinar: “Sex Scenes: It Starts Between the Ears.”

This intimate conversation begins with a question: Which sells, sex or sexy? The short answer is, both sell. Some audiences are impatient, others prefer drawing a little tension-building romance and seduction. The act – and the writing of the act – are of course intensely personal. As with any form of writing, the more you practice, the better you get. But practice what, and how?

Join the webinar on Tuesday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m. for a look at the art of seducing your readers with scintillating prose that appeals to our most primal instincts.

The sign-up sheet is here.

 

To follow Steve’s “Back Story” blog, follow this link.

Try Q&A to Dissolve Writer’s Block

“You don’t get me.”photo

“What do you mean?”

“You think you know everything I’m going to say before I say it. You don’t ask; you don’t listen. It’s getting old. I’m done with this.”

Sounds like a couple arguing. It’s not. Rather, it’s me doing what I do when I get what some call writer’s block. I’m skeptical about the term because I grew up in newsrooms where writer’s block wasn’t permitted.

“Writer’s block?” some editor would yell. “We work for a daily newspaper. Cut the crap and get me that story by four.”

Writing fiction is different. When an author tries to force or rush the relationship with his characters, they become predictable, or worse, stop talking altogether. The first time I felt this happen, it stopped me cold. What’s worse than predictable fiction?

I pushed back, thought about it, and decided to try a solution from my reporting days. I put the story aside and drew up half a dozen questions for my rebellious character. Then I sat us down and conducted an interview. The most challenging part was relinquishing authorial control and “answering” in the character’s voice.

In my novel Bootlicker, for instance, Ike Washington is on the verge of becoming South Carolina’s first black congressman since the Civil War. He has the looks, the pull and the votes. But he has risen to power on the coattails of a racist U.S. senator, and that knowledge haunts him. Voters weighing their choices in 1992 smile to his face and call him bootlicker behind his back.

During the writing process, Ike didn’t always like the way things were going. He and I broke away from the narrative several times for some intense back and forth.

I’d say: Senator McCauley coerced you in the beginning, but it didn’t take long before you went along willingly. You liked becoming Big Ike.

And he’d fire back: Easy to say from where you sit. I was a scared kid at the start. I didn’t know how to say no to the most important white man in town.

It’s an interesting drill, and I left my desk more than once feeling a little dazed. Allowing the characters to speak up led to a few plot twists I hadn’t expected, plus dialogue that felt more real than when I was unilaterally calling the shots.

My talks with Ike also led to a series of short, stand-alone chapters where Ike’s nightmares bring him face to face with a man McCauley and the Klan lynched decades earlier. Ike stumbled on the crime scene and has always felt guilty that he didn’t prevent the murder, or reveal the truth afterwards. I would not have had these scenes had I not asked Ike about his dreams.

There’s a joke that goes something like, “The answer to writer’s block is simple. Lower your standards.”

Before taking that easy out, try doing a few interviews. It worked for me.

Click here to follow Steve’s Back Story blog.

 

8 Author Resolutions for 2014

Make this the year you nail it

Make this the year you nail it

Say goodbye to 2013 and get ready to reboot. Just one question: Will you be ready when new opportunities present themselves in 2014? Some suggested New Year’s Resolutions for my fellow writers:

1 – Update your website and social media properties. Maybe you’ve won an award or changed jobs. Maybe that idea you had for a Tumblr site didn’t work out and you haven’t updated it in months. Do some housecleaning. You can’t expect visitors to be engaged if you’re not even paying attention.

2 – Make your bio a story worth reading. The only people who want to read resumes are prospective employers. Readers like stories. You’ve got one, plus the ability to tell it in an imaginative way. Creativity shouldn’t end when you finish writing your novel.

3 – Commit to more personal appearances. Efficient as social media is, a handshake trumps a cyber-shake. Get out there and meet real readers. Look them in the eye. Tell them face-to-face why you’re so passionate. That doesn’t mean neglect your social media arsenal; it means find a balance between being social online and being social in person.

4 – Become a more engaging speaker. If you write like Steinbeck and speak like an insurance salesman, there’s work to do. Three quick tips: First, practice aloud, preferably in front of real people, or at least a mirror. Second, understand your crowd before you walk on stage. (What do they care about? How much do they know about your subject?) Third, anticipate likely questions, practice your answers, and try to weave in some relatable stories.

5 – Improve your pitch. No one has much time, what with the demands of the job, the house, the kids and the car. If someone gives you five minutes to explain your story, make sure to nail it. And (I can’t say this enough) be enthusiastic every time you make your pitch. Excitement is contagious. If you don’t have any, you can’t infect anyone else.

6 – Distance yourself from the reviews. Some, hopefully most, will be great, but some will be lousy. Live with it. There’s no way to please everyone, and remember you never wanted that when you first started out. Otherwise you would have begun by conducting a focus group instead of a prologue. And for heaven’s sake, don’t get in an online argument with someone who pans your book.

7 – Keep writing (and reading). There’s no finish line for writers. When you finish a short story, a novel or any piece of writing, take a break, but after a time, begin something else. Sometimes the work is great; other times it’s slow and painful. The only constant is that to continue improving, you have to keep writing. And reading. Reading helps, especially when the stuff you read makes you think.

8 – Pay it forward. Wherever you are as a writer, there are plenty in front and plenty behind. Tip your hat to the ones ahead and help the ones behind whenever and however you can. It pays healthy dividends.

Good luck, all, and please share the resolutions you’ve made for 2014.

To follow Steve’s Back Story blog, please click here.

Listen: The Most Potent Sexual Organ is Between Your Ears


When we were together, locked like scissors,

nicely buzzed on mini-bar tequila,

she reached down and …

I recently posed the following question on a Google+ group called, “The Inner World of Erotic Dreams:”

As an author, I’m wondering whether words by themselves can stir the same (or even more intense) feelings than pix or videos. This scene is from my novel Bella.  Please try to imagine the same scene as played out by actors. Would you take the time to read the words, or would you rather watch the video? If you take the time to read the scene, please tell me any thoughts it provokes.

FROM BELLA

We took the side entrance stairway to our rooms. Isabel climbed the first wooden step, turned and faced me. The extra inches made us the same height. I put my hands on her waist and we kissed very gently, our bodies barely touching, as if we hadn’t already been together. “I’m not sleeping with you tonight,” she murmured, her lips still brushing mine. I said it was all right. All that mattered was the moment, the feel of her flesh beneath my mouth and fingers, the salty breeze blowing off Charleston Harbor, the thrill of playing out a private moment in public. We might have stayed that way for two minutes or twenty; I couldn’t tell. When I stroked the back of her thighs and dared a caress under her dress, I discovered she was naked underneath. She uttered the soft moan that I remembered from Hank’s pumpkin-colored Mustang, and I knew I’d lost more than my sense of time. I pulled her to me and, for the first time, she resisted. I kissed her neck. “Come to my room. Your heart’s so loud I can hear it. And this … ” I said, reaching between her legs. She laughed and broke away. I kept a hand on her waist. “Don’t you want to feel our bodies touching without clothes?” she smiled naughtily and spun around. When she turned back, her blouse was open and her bra was in her hand. She undid my shirt one button at a time, not even bothering to check the courtyard for spies. When the shirt fell open, she hugged me and kissed my chest. “Nice,” she murmured. “You were right.” I assumed the teasing was over and tried to lead her to my room. Again she pulled back, drawing her blouse closed and climbing two more steps. “Not tonight. I can’t after what happened today. Don’t be mad.”

Mad wasn’t quite the word.

WORDS STIMULATE

The response in my informal focus group was clear – words can trump images. Said one member, “Words can be more powerful because they require the reader to engage the imagination.”

Why so much porn then? One group member said it’s like everything else. We want instant gratification. Never mind that pleasure delayed is often pleasure intensified.

Which gets to another question for authors trying to weave erotic scenes into their stories. Which sells, sex or sexy?

For me, there are two “don’ts.” One is, don’t indulge in sex scenes simply because they’re available. There must be a point, and the scene must reveal something you haven’t shown yet about the characters, and move the story forward. The second is, don’t lapse into the afore-mentioned porn, or worse, unintentionally funny porn, full of acrobatic acts and contraptions that are better left to professionals.

UNDRESSED AND EXPOSED

Think of all that can be  exposed (no pun) by a well-done sex scene: confidence, creativity, knowledge, skill, consideration, and patience, or – uh-oh – insecurity, ignorance, clumsiness, and selfishness. What does the reader take away from a character who wants the lights left on, or who chooses the kitchen over the bedroom, or who slides a zipper instead of tearing it open? What are we to make of Bella after she sleeps with Danny and then says, before anyone’s breathing returns to normal, “You need to go.”

The truth is that, as in life, sex and sexy both sell. Some audiences are impatient, others prefer drawing a little tension-building romance and seduction. The act – and the writing of the act – are intensely personal and subject to another truism, that the more you practice, the better you get. Funny that this is the case, since we are all born with a powerful instinct to procreate and communicate.

If you have written or read a novel where clothes fly and bodies tangle, you probably have some thoughts to share on all this. I’d love to hear them.

 

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Free Webinar: Take 2 on the Secrets Your Characters are Hiding

Your characters have secrets to tell

Your characters have secrets to tell …

Please join me Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for the repeat of a free webinar on how to discover the secrets your characters are hiding. Click here to sign up and participate in an interesting and practical session with actionable tips you’ll be able to put to immediate use. What will we cover? Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us.

Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off.

I hope you’ll sign up and join me this Thursday.

(To follow Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage).

Free Webinar 10/1: Character Above All

Uncover your characters' secrets

Uncover your characters’ secrets

Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us. Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off. I hope you’ll join this discussion in a free webinar Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

 

 

Free Webinar Tuesday: Honing in on Those Distinctive Details

Free writing webinar Tuesday

Free writing webinar Tuesday

What separates great and average writing? A sharp eye and the ability to turn important details into compelling storytelling. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “Little things make big things happen.” Dial up this webinar and be prepared for a deep dive into the small details that will make your writing unique and original. The sign-up sheet is here.

 

To subscribe to Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage.

 

 

Improve Your Blog Posts: Free Webinar Tuesday!

Author Steve Piacente with Bootlicker poster

Come blog with me …

Cover the 5 C’s, and you’ll be blogging with more confidence and capturing the attention of more readers. Come learn and try a few exercises in my free webinar on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The sign-up sheet is here. Hope to see you Tuesday!

To subscribe to Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage.

Defeat Writer’s Block: Free Webinar

Bust through writer's block

It’s time to break through writer’s block.

You pace. You change rooms. You turn on music, get coffee, and put up laundry. Nothing works; the words simply will not come. The answer isn’t trying to stare down the screen. The answer lies in unclogging the creative channels that produce the ideas and prose hiding within. Join me Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. for a free webinar focused on tactics and exercises that will help you vanquish dreaded writer’s block. The sign-up sheet is here.