April 2013

With the major fall and winter holidays still over  six months away, this is the perfect time to work on crafting your seasonal article for submission to magazines. Seasonal articles can, of course, be submitted for any season, but the winter holidays will by far offer some of the greatest opportunities for getting your foot in the door.

Most print magazines will look to purchase seasonal articles at least six months out, so if you have a Thanksgiving or Christmas article in mind, you’ll need to get it polished and sent fairly soon. Smaller magazines, however, may work on shorter time frames. If you’re crunched for time, it’s worth doing some research to see which ones may have deadlines a little further out. The time line for online magazines is much shorter, but it never hurts to get some ideas into the publisher early.

Remember, when writing for magazines, it’s best to find out what the publisher wants first, then write your story to fit the needs of the magazine, instead of writing what you want and then trying to find a magazine that wants to buy it. The best place to start for seasonal needs is the ever-handy magazine market guide book. Search for “seasonal” or “holiday” to find which magazines buy these articles.

Next, determine what exactly they are looking for. Included in this list might be short stories that focus on traditions, a humorous piece about a holiday, or a touching memoir. Or perhaps the magazine is looking for holiday travel tips or celebrating on a budget. You may even find a place for your award-winning fruitcake recipe or Thanksgiving crafts!

Research well and take the necessary time to pour through a few issues of the magazine for writing style, tone, word count, and other necessities.

If you miss the cutoff for winter holidays, Valentine’s Day is another popular magazine favorite, along with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Another strategy is to seek out those more obscure holidays and look for niche magazines that might be open to a cultural story of St. Patrick’s Day or some interesting facts about Veteran’s Day, for instance. Sometimes it pays to go down the path less traveled!

Whichever holiday or season you choose, these articles provide an excellent way for new writers to break into the magazine market. If your article gets accepted, after you submit, write back to the editor with an idea for another upcoming holiday article. It never hurts to strike while the iron is hot, as they say, and you may just secure yourself a spot for the next major holiday before other writers beat you to it.

Structure and creativity appear, on the surface, to be mutually exclusive concepts–especially when it comes to an art form like writing. In fact, writers will typically describe their writing process as either being of a structured nature or more free form, where they write based on whatever whim comes to them. I’d like to propose–and in doing so, perhaps arm you with a new writing strategy–that both concepts can happily co-exist in the same writing process.

I tend to be more structured by nature–every T crossed, and every I dotted. Maybe that’s why I prefer nonfiction over fiction and why I like to edit. But I’ve also discovered along the way that structure needs to be infused with writing chaos from time to time. Let me explain…

Take outlines, for example. I love outlines! Many people hate them, and I can easily see why. But for me, especially when it comes to nonfiction–but even for fiction–outlines keep me on track. I like having a road map of sorts to know where my writing is taking me. But, then again, when you’re on a road trip, isn’t it the detours along the way to try some authentic local food or to see the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn that make the trip fun and adventurous? Of course! And it’s no different in writing.

If you’re too structured, an outline can serve as a prison, never allowing you outside of its walls. I’ve learned to use an outline instead as a launching pad of ideas. I give myself permission to wander outside its framework and take the occasional detour. I’ve learned that by doing so, I may just discover some treasures along the way.

One example of this is when I once wrote an article for a children’s magazine comparing and contrasting a couple of sea creatures. My research took me way off the beaten path of where my outline said I was supposed to go, but the information I gathered was so rich and deep, that I ended up changing the entire angle of my article to incorporate my fascinating discovery!

It’s important, however, to not lose sight of the main road you were on after you take your detours. Just like on a real road trip, you have to eventually get back on course with your writing or you will find yourself completely rewriting your story (Perhaps in some cases, this might be a good thing!). Although I reworked the premise for my article, I still incorporated the majority of my outline points. They just ended up being arranged differently from what I had first purposed.

Another example of structure coexisting with creativity is in the flow of ideas. Even if you don’t write out an outline, chances are you have in your head how your story or nonfiction piece is to be ordered. For fiction, some write from a plot-driven perspective, where they know the order of events that need to take place and then build their characters and scenes around these events. For nonfiction, ordering might mean writing out all your main points, incorporating your subpoints, then adding your introduction and conclusion.

Instead, what if you began your fiction piece with the area(s) of conflict and worked outwardly? You may not even have a story yet, but if you have a great idea for a conflict point, use that to build your story around. And, for nonfiction, try allowing your ordering to be born from your writing itself. Again, follow some of those idea detours. You may end up scrapping some of your points in favor of others.

On the flip side of adding creativity to structure is to add structure and form to creativity. Many writers have the opposite problem that I have, which is that they will write whatever pops into their head, no matter how random or disconnected it may be. My advice to these writers is to take those random thoughts and jot them down, but don’t pursue them immediately. After you gather a collection of them, see if you recognize a pattern or theme that can be attached to these ideas. Corral them under one heading, and the ones that don’t fit, toss them out.

Then, go back through them, identifying those that are worth developing. From these ideas, build a loose framework. Once you have a general sketch of where you’re headed, brainstorm some more and continue the process of writing down, combining, and eliminating ideas. Now, instead of having random thoughts going in several different directions, you have collections of random thoughts all headed down the same road!

So, which are you in your writing process–structured or creative? Hopefully, this article has inspired you to be structurally creative–the best of both!

Today I have a special guest blogger–Julie Momyer–who will be sharing her secrets for developing realistic characters, who readers will either love to love or love to hate! Julie is the author of Kiss Me Awake, a suspense novel filled with all kinds of diverse and richly developed characters. I asked Julie to please share with my readers her suggested ways for developing the characters in a fiction piece.

Hope you enjoy what she has to share…

Thou Shalt Know Thy Character

Have you ever read a novel where the characters were just names on a page? Where, other than a few descriptive words, you didn’t know anything about them, who they really were, or what made them tick?

Some refer to such characters as flat, lifeless, or one-dimensional. They have a shallow surface and a hollow core like the chocolate Easter bunnies on the store shelves. This happens because the author didn’t take the time to get to know their own characters.

Don’t let this happen to you.

When a reader picks up a book, they are embarking on a journey, and they don’t travel alone. The characters are their companions. They want to know them. Intimately.  And the only way this can be accomplished is if the author knows them intimately, first.

Physical descriptions are important to convey: eye color, build, hair length, distinguishing traits, such as a limp and how they acquired it. But if you want your characters to come across as authentic, your primary focus needs to be on their personality, their behaviors, and their life experiences.

Get inside your characters’ head, walk around in their shoes. Take them on like an actor would take on a character on the stage. It’s up to you to determine who they are, what they like, what their skills and desires are, what they are capable of, how they will react under stress, and so on.

How to Get Acquainted with Your Character

One way you can get to know your character is to create a character interview. The questions and answers are simple, similar to those asked in junior high school yearbooks and newspaper interviews:

  • Where do you live?
  • What was your worst experience?
  • What was your best experience?
  • What are your favorite foods, music, books, etc?
  • What hobbies do you have?
  • What are your vices?
  • What is your family like?
  • Who are your friends?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What are your goals (in this case not a life goal, but the goal in the novel)?
  • What is your education and occupation?

Then go a little deeper, and ask yourself about your character. Is your character…

An introvert or an extrovert?

Kind hearted or cold?

An optimist, pessimist, or realist?

Timid or bold?

Intelligent or ignorant?

Intriguing or boring?

Evil or good?

Charming or annoying?

Easygoing or uptight?

Are they sensitive? If so, is their sensitivity directed more toward others or themselves? Or both?

Are they hard and unemotional?

Are they passive or aggressive?

Do they have a strong sense of justice or none at all?

How do they deal with pain or trauma?

If it will contribute to the shaping of the character or further the story, you can go one step further and determine why they are the way they are. For example, if your character is unusually sensitive you can weave the cause of their hypersensitive nature into the story.

These are methods various authors have used to build their character profiles, and are not mandatory to your success. You may choose another route. Some writers flesh out their characters with detailed outlines while others can “feel” who their characters are. In the case of character development, the end justifies the means because all that matters in the end is: Do you know your character?

Thanks, Julie, for sharing about character development today. It’s true that there are many processes that will help you sketch out and develop characters for your stories. What works for one person may not work for another, so you may end up having to try several methods before hitting on one that’s just right for you. But until you know your characters intimately, don’t expect them to be anything but lifeless to your readers. The more you know them, the more your readers will as well.

To read more about Julie, you can visit her author website at http://www.juliemomyer.com (“Fiction for Real Women”). From there, you can check out her blog and read about her book, Kiss Me Awake.