Thursday, January 31, 2013

WWYD -- What Will YOU Do?

I am co-moderating a writers’ chat loop on craft and skills and we’ve been engaged in an interesting discussion of creating characters. I’d like to share some of that with you.

While discussing female protagonist portrayals – in other words Heroines – the name Sandra Bullock came up. She was mentioned as a heroine who is pretty much universally liked.

On this loop our focus is commercial – or some call it popular – fiction where protagonist likability is extremely relevant. For your story to be commercially viable – especially genre viable – it behooves you to create a likable main character.

There are exceptions in the annals of popular fiction titles. I can hear you listing them now. But they are exceptions after all. When seeking to be published or better published it is advisable to stick with the rule rather than the exception.

The goal is to concoct a likable main character. In this case a likable heroine. What could be more helpful than a concrete model you can readily tap into for that quest?

You could use yourself as that model but there be monsters. Our knowledge of ourselves is fractured by stuff like self esteem or lack of such. We have enough difficulty inhabiting us in real life. Why try to do so in fiction?

You could use friends and family but that is problematic also. Our knowledge of those around us is distorted by the cracked prism of relationship. Conflicts and confusion and consternation too often intervene.

What we need is a clear view of the character of the person that still allows for affection and is not dependent on the whims of interpersonal or intrapersonal involvement.

Who can fill this role for us better than folks from film? We watch them. We become engrossed in their stories – sometimes deeply so. We even have opinions of like or dislike about them – sometimes strongly so.

This makes actors a rich source of character material for our fiction. And for our popular fiction main characters we want actors we find personally very likable. Hence Sandra Bullock.

In most of her roles Sandra plays the quintessential girl/woman we cannot help but love. She is quirky. She is imperfect but admirable anyway. She is cute rather than unapproachably glamorous. She is a role model who does not overwhelm us – or our readers.

For other roles we might choose Angelina Jolie or Julianne Moore or whoever. The key is that we know this character. We have inhabited her story on intimate terms. We have a relationship with her. This being a film relationship is a plus. We know her up close but not too personal.

As you create your character and put her into action in your story ask yourself WWSD – What Would Sandra Do in this scene? Feel free to substitute your own likable actor name in that query.

Now how about creating your male protagonist hero? I am leaning toward WWDD. What Would Daniel – Day Lewis – Do? Not as Lincoln but as Hawkeye in Last of the MohicansI’m going for sexy manly after all. And Abe just does not strike me personally in that way if you know what I mean.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

We Are the Ninety Percenters

I recently discovered the blog of a publishing truth teller. He begins his forthrightness with the blog title The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

This is publishing honesty straight down to its fragile bone structure. The best we who comment can do is pass on our musings. The next best we can do is blunder through and hope we blunder artfully.

The post I have linked you with emphasizes that this is your writing career and nobody else’s. Scott admonishes us never to forget that. He says it this way.

“Even if you have a big agent or publisher supporting you, it is still your career. At the heart of it is still you alone at a keyboard or with a notepad in your hand, don’t lose sight of that.”

He also lets us know that with ownership of our careers comes ownership of responsibility for those careers. We dump that responsibility on an agent or editor or manager at our own peril.

Scott goes so far as to put a number on the degree of this ownership and responsibility. A larger number than even I would have proposed. I am now rethinking that lower number position.

“Writing a book, in my opinion, is only 10 percent of this gig,” Scott says. “The rest is marketing or PR. It’s what we do to get an agent or a publisher. It’s what we do afterwards in trying to get people to buy our books.”

10 percent of our work effort to writing – 90 percent to the rest. For most of us this is a radical realignment of priorities – an even more radical reallocation of time and energy and head room.

OMG we’re talking about CHANGE!!! Shall we emit a collective EEK altogether right now?

This is all about facing the music. And the truth is that the music of getting from unpublished to published or from listlessly to energetically published is rocking along faster than ever before.

If we intend to keep step we must dance faster too. Maybe not just faster but differently. Maybe a ninety percent dance this time around the floor.

Some will say – “I didn’t get into this to become a marketer. I just want to write.” That is a legitimate stance – as long as getting published and then selling that published work is not at the top of your expectations list.

Otherwise once we’ve stepped up – the next step is to reconfigure our priorities and alignments. If it is any comfort to you – I will be fast dancing right by your side.

Does this post ring true to you? You will find much more of the same in my book on writing and getting your writing published No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells available at

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pitch Perfect

My latest workshop presentation was called Pitch Perfect. It was about how to create a project pitch with agent-editor appeal. The response so enthusiastic I decided to pass on the essence of that workshop here.

There are ways to optimize your chances of submission acceptance by an agent or editor. There are also ways to sabotage those chances. A great pitch is one way to stop sabotaging and start optimizing.

To attract an agent or an editor to your work – you must first attract her positive attention. You do that with an Effective Pitch.

An effective pitch is Powerful. That power comes from the words you use in your pitch. The choice of those words is crucial.

You must choose words that have impact. You must choose words that are Intense – Powerful – Dramatic.

Such words demand attention. Such words get attention. Without such words your pitch will most likely lack the extra element that knocks an agent’s socks off and makes an editor sit bolt upright and take notice.

But – these words are also dynamite and you must always treat explosives carefully. Just the right amount gives you Fireworks. Just the right amount gives you Drama.
On the other hand too much dynamite gives you a misfire – or a catastrophe. Too much powerful word dynamite gives you melodrama – makes you sound overwrought.

What is just the right amount Wow Word Power for a perfect pitch? We’re talking about two wonderful sentences with just the right amount of intensity and drama.

My prescription is three to four Wow Words per Pitch. That’s just enough fireworks for two sentences but not enough fireworks to blow up in your face.

Where do you find these words? I found mine in a thesaurus and made a list. I spent a couple of hours rolling around in words – not a bad way for a writer to spend a morning. You can do the same if you’d like.

Or – you can shoot me an email at Ask for a copy of “WOW Words Work Wonders”. I’ll be happy to share my list with you.

I’m sure you’ll find three or four of these wower’s that suit your story or project. But keep in mind that this list is a work in progress. Feel free to add your own wow power choices. Then Pitch Perfect for a better shot at a game winning strike every time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hey There Fabulous You

I’m about to teach my first writing workshop series in New York City in decades and I am thrilled to be doing that.

fabYOUlus You – How to Tell the Story of Your Extraordinary Self is a memoir Writing Workshop sponsored by the International Women’s Writing Guild

In this workshop you will tell the story of what it took for you to go through all you’ve been through in your life and to come out on this side of all that relatively intact.

This is an important story and a story I'm very eager to hear. It is also a story I believe many of us are ready to tell. That's why I'm teaching this series. Because the tales of our triumphant lives deserve to be told.

We will meet at Shetler Studios in Midtown Manhattan on eight Thursday mornings from February 7th thru March 28th at 10 a.m. to noon.

This will be a small class so everybody will get a chance to read what they write. If you'd like to reserve a place go to Or to find out more you can email me at

I've been leading memoir writing workshops for a few years now. You might be interested in what some of my students had to say.

From my West Coast Memoir Writing Workshops
“Alice is a fabulous presenter and brings to the table a rich array of knowledge. 5-Star!’
“You opened me up to me and to my story.”
“This has been transforming.”

From my East Coast Memoir Writing Workshops
“I learned how to pressure the coal of my life to find the diamond.”
“I felt I didn’t have the courage to write my story. Today I discovered I do.”
“This will impact my writing life profoundly! The level of deep emotional content was awesome. Thank you.”

So maybe I'll be seeing you in midtown soon. Wouldn't that be exciting? I think it would.