Recommended Reads: Three Plotting Articles by Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy

My current writing project has been stripping down the story of a past project I love in order to simplify and really focus on building up a strong character arc. In doing so, however, I’ve scrambled a few other parts of the plot, which compelled me to look more into plotting and how to do it most effectively. This naturally led me to romance author and my good writing friend, Noelle Pierce, who is brilliant at that stuff. She immediately recommended these blog articles by Janice Hardy and, I must say, they’re wonderful. Janice really paints a clear picture of what makes a strong novel and helps you map out (at least in your head) how to go about writing yours. Even if you’re leery of these kinds of guidelines for fear that they might make your book too formulaic, you should give it a read–she addresses that fear, too.

Each of these blog articles gives a look at a different style of plotting structures. Great reads.

 

 

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Review of Authonomy.com (Discontinued Fall 2015)

Photo Source: Bloomingtwig.com

Photo Source: Bloomingtwig.com

This review probably doesn’t help anyone, since Authonomy.com is no longer in existence, but for a long time it was my writing home. I met a lot of people there and learned a lot. This review is in part for me, to set a bar of some kind to compare other writing community sites with, and for my ol’ “Autho” friends who may read these reviews, to grasp that bar to be able to understand my views on the other sites I review.

Photo Source: Gigaom.com

Photo Source: Gigaom.com

For those who never partook in Authonomy, you should probably get the scoop on why it failed–or at least this writer’s opinion of why it failed…an opinion that was commonly shared by many.

I’ll give you a second to read that.

Done? Good. Or perhaps you don’t care. That’s fine, too :).

So with that in mind, here are two simultaneous reviews of Authonomy.com before it was taken down. One was the revamp version, which was terrible and drove down activity; the second was what was in place before it, a site that wasn’t perfect–it certainly had its problems–but was innovative and very addicting. They had a system in place where you were always competing, which sounds awful and people did complain sometimes, but–love it or hate it–it sure did motivate. You could put up to five books on your “shelf” and, depending on how much you reviewed (and perhaps some other factors) your “shelving” gave that book an unknown score that affected a race to the Editor’s Desk. Every month, the top five books by this formula earned a review by one of Harper Collin’s editors. Some people weren’t so happy with the review they received, but mine was really helpful and a great experience getting there.

So anyway, without further ado…

Audience & Features

The audience changed at Autho after the revamp, or at least that’s how it seemed. Part of the problem was that they went from a simple, easy-to-navigate layout to one that caters to the younger generation: busy, flashy and full of glitz. And maybe that’s the way to do it. Maybe the newer generation of writing sites has it to a T. But it isn’t for me. It’s all flash, less function, and I feel like that’s how the more experienced writers there took it, as well, like we/they were getting pushed out of the way for a younger audience.

That said, the features were still in place and very effective to a point, but much less so for whatever reason. Or at least that’s how it seemed. Some of the things that didn’t work hadn’t been addressed or had been addressed, but in a way that worsened the problem (I’m thinking of the rating system and some other things) in spite of the constant feedback of users. It was clear their intention of the new direction didn’t mirror what the current users were looking for from there–and that’s OK. Only, what they did come up with clearly didn’t work, and now Autho is sadly no more.

Ratings: Old Autho–Audience=5, Features=4; New Autho–Audience=3, Features=3

Community & Review Traffic

This is a tough one, because there was always SUCH a great community in place on the prior version of the site. It’s hard to assess the revamp version, because it felt as though there was huge fall off with this after the revamp as users seemed to leave by the droves. Now, had the site had more time to settle, things might have been different, but as it is, I’d have to say the community element worsened after the revamp. Also a factor is the trolling that when on there. Part of it was the competition aspect with folks trying to reach the Editor’s Desk, but there was more trolling there than I’ve seen anywhere else.

The review traffic was excellent. Again, you could expect some worthless feedback from time to time, but there were enough experts there to make it worthwhile. This aspect seemed to worsen after the revamp, and I’m not sure why, to be honest.

Ratings: Old Autho–Community=3, Review Traffic=5; New Autho–Community=2, Review Traffic=4

Technical Aspects (Site Navigation, Control, User-Friendliness, Portfolio Organization/Management)

The site navigation was much cleaner, simpler on the old version. The new version wasn’t so much. Again, Autho went to more of a modern style that I don’t get. Think of Netflix, for those who have it. The browsing function has gotten better, I think, but it’s still kind of cluttered. It’s like they think they’re a grocery store and want to make you sift through all sorts of crap to actually find what you want. This might work for Netflix or a grocery store, but for a writing site that should want to put its best foot forward? I don’t know. I suppose I could come up with a good argument for why they’d do this, but it made it much less user-friendly and more frustrating.

You actually had more control over uploading in a lot of ways in the newer version, and your MS might have even been more protected, but uploading files to read and review became much more cumbersome.

Profiles also became a bit busier.

Ratings: Old Autho–Site Navigation=3, Control=2, User-Friendliness=4, Portfolio Management=4; New Autho–Site Navigation=1, User-Friendliness=1, Portfolio Management=2

Cost

No cost, so that was a boon for the site.

Ratings: Old and New Autho=5

Writing Help

I really liked the professional development opportunities on the site. There were LOTS of articles covering various topics and genres and they were really easy to navigate. I kind of wish I would have saved more of them before the site went under.

Ratings: Old and New Autho=4

Overall Score

In my humblest opinion, the older version of Authonomy.com kicked the new version in the tale, with a score of 3.92 to 2.75. I’ll just say it: I thought the new version was terrible. They took in a lot of feedback, and it wasn’t terribly hard to gauge the consensus on certain things–folks were all to eager to share their thoughts. Yet they didn’t really listen to their users, and it begs the question if that was intentional. It seems like they were trying to redefine themselves and, in doing so, alienating the core of their user base. It felt like a slap in the face, because so much was made of the revamp that was coming, and a few months into things got so bad that HC announced they were dropping the site altogether. That’s a pretty bad revamp. Again, there was probably more to this story, but on the user end it stunk to high heaven. It had its faults, but the older version of Authonomy was a wonderfully unique experience for writings.

Summary

OLDER AUTHONOMY

  • Score: 3.92 out of 5
  • Strengths: Audience, Review Traffic, No Cost
  • Weaknesses: Trolling, Limited Control of MS

REVAMPED VERSION OF AUTHONOMY

  • Score: 2.75 out of 5
  • Strengths: Review Traffic, No Cost
  • Weaknesses: Trolling, Site Navigation, User Friendliness

 

 

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Review of BookCountry.com

Photo Source: BookCountry.com

Photo Source: BookCountry.com

BookCountry.com (or BC) is where I ended up after Harper Collin’s Authonomy went under. It’s hosted by Penguin Books, which is very cool, but certainly has a unique flavor to it.

Don’t forget to check out the explanations of the categories if you missed it before.

Audience & Features

As BC is a place to showcase novels, and not other forms of writing, it stands to reason that most of its participants are somewhat serious about their craft. After all, writing a novel is a hard endeavor to undergo. The feedback I’ve received there, as well as the contributors to conversations I’ve been involved in the forums, has been mostly insightful, which gives me the impression that there is a quality audience here, filled with individuals who know what they’re talking about.

On the Features side of things, the focus is a bit unique. The variety of features aren’t so robust when it comes to say, community interactivity, but there are a lot of features in terms of publishing options. Yes, you can actually publish your book as an e-book through BC and set up prices and payments. Kind of cool, actually.

Ratings: Audience = 4 Features = 4

Community & Review Traffic

BC has created a safe environment for novelists to connect. Really, I’ve been there a short while now and haven’t come across any trolling. The forums are well attended and there’s some great conversations that happen there.

On the flip side, and maybe the reason why there’s little to no trolling, is that there review traffic is pretty weak. It’s really hard to get constant reviews on that site, because there isn’t much emphasis on reader incentive. I received about two or three reviews for every twenty-plus I gave out, and that was in spite of requesting return reads. Perhaps my works simply weren’t interesting enough, but I’ve had better success on other sites. A definite weakness of BC.

Ratings: Community = 4; Review Traffic = 1

Technical Aspects (Site Navigation, Control, User-Friendliness, Portfolio Organization/Management)

The site navigation works, I suppose, mostly because it’s a simple setup in many ways. However, in other ways, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. An author’s profile is somewhat buried and there’s a few cross-navigation routes that didn’t make sense to me.

In terms of its user-friendliness, the biggest gripe I have is that it doesn’t work well with Internet Explorer. While Chrome and Firefox are better and becoming more standard for such things, it was really a bugger when I was trying to do stuff with my account from, say, a library computer that only allowed for IE. Also, there were often big glitches even when I went through FF or Chrome.

Ratings: Site Navigation = 2; Control = 3; User-Friendliness = 2; Portfolio Organization = 3

Cost

There’s no cost–at least not to have a profile and be active from that vantage point. There may be in regards to publishing and other support services (I recall seeing something about this), but nothing that concerned me so much.

Rating: Cost = 5

Writing Help

There are some nice reference tools and the likes available.

Rating: Writing Help = 4

Overall Score

By my calculator and from the scores above, I give BookCountry.com a score of 3.25 out of 5. Remember, I don’t expect any site to get close to a perfect 5 for various reasons. 3.25 is a decent score, I think.

BC is a nice site if you’re looking to showcase your work or are looking for a host to publish your work for money. It’s got a great community, too. Just don’t expect much review activity–at least not without a LOT of pushing on your part. It’s more relaxed/less demanding than some other sites, but less activity, too.

Summary

  • Score: 3.25 out of 5
  • Strengths: Audience, Community, Features
  • Weaknesses: Low Review Traffic, Odd Site Navigation, Glitches (or at least I keep running into them)
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Review of Writing.com

Photo Source: Writing.com

Photo Source: Writing.com

I feel a bit indebted to Writing.com (or “WDC”). After all, it’s where I began…sort of (I did have a short stint in college–early 2000s–at another writing site that hasn’t been active for years). The site has its shortcomings, but it’s also unique in many, many ways, and may just be the perfect fit for you.

So, without further ado…

…ahem, if you get lost with the categories, be sure to check out the explanations

…now, onward…

Audience & Features

I’ve lumped these two categories together, because they kind of effect one another in a push and pull kind of way. On the one hand, WDC has more interactive features than any other online writing community I’ve seen to date. Contests, campfire stories, forums and clubs, merit badges, awards, community-use currency (that you earn and don’t necessarily have to pay money for–but can)…the features on this site are impressive and make it an addictive place to linger. Adding to that is the fact that you can showcase more than just one kind of work. That’s right, WDC isn’t just for aspiring novelists: poets, essay writers, etc. are all welcome. On the surface, this is fantastic! The only problem for me was that it sort of diluted the skillset and focus of those you interacted with. In other words, if I’m looking for quality feedback and guidance on my work from others who are serious about the kind of writing I’m trying to get better at–visa vie, writing a novel–more often than not I may not get it. Additionally, the environment feels a bit like high school, what with all the clubs and glitz. Nothing wrong with having younger writers around but, let’s be honest, older, more experienced writers usually have more wisdom and insight to offer. So there’s that element.

Ratings: Audience = 2; Features = 5

Community & Review Traffic

The community interaction is excellent–a direct result of how many features are available. Really, if you can’t find a click here, you either don’t want to (which is a valid approach) or you’re just not making any kind of effort. WDC uses a community driven approach to helping writer’s improve.

Likewise, the amount of reviews one can expect from this site is awesome. Even though I’m not so active anymore, I still get the occasional review. When I was active, I could expect them all the time–whether they were directly asked for or not.

Ratings: Community = 5; Review Traffic = 5

Technical Aspects (Site Navigation, Control, User-Friendliness, Portfolio Organization/Management)

The site navigation was always a bit of a mess, and it doesn’t seem much better these days. There’s so many things to be involved in at WDC, yet finding these tools and making sense of what you’re looking at isn’t clean and easy at all. It takes some time being there.

In addition, the site isn’t always so user-friendly in that it requires that the user know a bit of code that’s unique to the site. There are plenty of tutorials on this and the community is always eager to help, but it may be an element some aren’t as comfortable with.

On the other hand, because of the requirement to know some coding, you have a lot of control over editing. Also, since the coding makes things less graphic intensive, opening items to read works very well.

Ratings: Site Navigation = 1; Control = 4; User-Friendliness = 2; Portfolio Organization = 5

Cost

Basic membership is free, but it’s very limited. You’re only able to showcase like five items, which is not good considering that an item can’t be a novel and that participating in contests and other interactive features on the site requires you to have your writing as an item in your portfolio.

The next level of an upgraded membership isn’t so bad, only $20 per year, but it’s still pretty basic. Most of the really active folks I encountered had upgraded memberships, which is $50 per year ($4/month).  I had an upgraded membership for a few years and didn’t regret it in the least. As I said, it was a great place to be for where I was in my writing at the time.

Rating: Cost = 2

Writing Help

WDC lists a lot of recommendations for classes to take and books to buy on many different topics, but not a lot of free guidance from what I could/can see.

Rating: Writing Help = 2

Overall Score

My calculator is cranking and from the sub-scores above I’ve set, placing emphasis on the categories I find most important, I give Writing.com a score of 3.33 out of 5. Remember, I don’t expect any site to get close to a perfect 5 for various reasons. 3.33 is a pretty darn good score, I think, though it’s my first review, which means there isn’t any basis for comparison yet.

WDC is a great, GREAT site if you’re looking for a strong community and a lot of variety in your writing interactions. It’s also great if you’re just starting out as a writer, or are looking for a place to help get you out of a writing funk. Prompts are aplenty here with so many ways to showcase your writing.

The downside, at least from my vantage point, is that it feels best suited for a younger audience. The feedback I’d typically receive was hit or miss, with more misses than hits. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of talented writers on the site–I’ve met some FANTASTIC writers there–but for every one great bit of feedback I’d get (by great I mean insightful and constructive), I’d say I got four or five useless reviews (where everything is gum drops and rainbows, if you catch my drift). Again, that’s not really a problem if it’s not what your emphasis on…and of course this may not be everyone’s experience, but it’s something I thought was worth noting.

Summary

  • Score: 3.33 out of 5
  • Strengths: Community, Review Traffic, Variety of Features
  • Weaknesses: Audience comprised of more casual writers, Messy Site Navigation, Fee for Upgrades

 

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Recommended Reads: “Learn the Elements of a Novel” (Website)

Peder Hill, Learn the Elements of a Novel

Peder Hill, Learn the Elements of a Novel

I’m trying to kick-start my writing again, but this time I’m doing more reading of articles on how to do it than anything else :). Specifically, I’m trying to amp up my character arc skills. In my perusing of the internet for good articles on the subject, I came across this website that does a great job of simplifying certain elements of the writing process, including character arc development. It doesn’t have everything, but it’s pretty solid, I think. Check it out, and thanks Peder Hill for sharing your expertise.

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Enter 2016 – A Writer’s Update

oenIt’s a new year…again. I apologize for not writing so much recently, but man it’s been busy. That and I haven’t been sure what to write. I mean, I haven’t been able to write at all of late, so that’s been a bummer. But fear not, last week I pushed myself to write a whole 1,000 words! Not much, I know, but I’m hoping it evolves into more.

For those who missed it and care to know, I’m rewriting The Siren’s Lyric…again. I’ve spent quite some time studying how to write novels (something I think most aspiring authors don’t bother to do) and have learned some things. I’m excited to try out these lessons.

Other than that, I’m excited about the casting of Idris Elba in the Dark Tower movie (my all-time favorite book series…and has been since the early ’90s when I happened upon the first book at the ripe age of 13 or so). I’m truly bummed that Netflix doesn’t have more episodes of Gotham or Blacklist. I’m grumbling that, with three little ones, I don’t have the opportunity to watch all the great movies that have come out the last year or two. (Still haven’t seen Star Wars and probably won’t for some time). I’m planning my extended family’s reunion for 2017 (we’re at 100+ people so far). Work has been piling on. And life has just continued to happen.

Here’s hoping you’re enjoying your 2016 is looking good so far. I’m hoping to dive back into this world of writing and blogging, so stay tuned.

Phil

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Christmas Gift Ideas for Any Writer

Haven’t written anything for a while–my apologies for those upset by this. For those who couldn’t care a lick…um, I take the apology back :P. I thought I’d return with a vengeance with something a little different: clever Christmas gift ideas for writers…since it is, after all, the time to start shopping.

  1. Color Your Stories, by Elizabeth Bank

    Color Your Stories, by Elizabeth Bank

    Adult Coloring Books: I’ll start with the item that gave me the idea for this blog. Coloring books for adults. Yeah, it’s a recent phenomenon that’s picking up steam, apparently. Personally, I’d recommend these two, and yes she’s a friend, but she’s also incredibly talented, so I can vouch for it being a good product. Any fiction author knows that much of writing is plotting, and what better way to untangle those pesky plot knots than giving your mind a mindless, yet engaging mental distraction to spur creativity?

  2. Aqua Notes: I don’t know about you, but most of my great ideas come in the shower, making this a perfect product for me.
  3. Audible Membership: The best way to become a better writer, they say, is to read a lot. Audible lets you download audio
    Aqua Notes

    Aqua Notes

    books, magazines and newspapers to your smartphone, tablet, computer and many other devices that play audio.

  4. Stephen King’s On Writing: Those who’ve followed my blog know how much of a King fan I am. I realize that not everyone’s a fan of his genre, but this book isn’t genre-specific. It’s also one of the few books I’ve run across that gives great writing advice while being a page-turner–regardless of whatever genre fascinates you. Check out On Writing.
  5. Stephen King, On Writing

    Stephen King, On Writing

    Fingerless Gloves: When it’s cold, it’s tough to type. Fingerless gloves are a handy tool for any writer.

So there you have it. Some fun Christmas gift ideas that would suit any novelist. Really, to be ahead of the curb for Christmas shopping, I would have had to put this out there last June…to be ready for the 2016 Christmas holiday, but this is as good as it gets. I’m not a fan of giving writers cutesy/impractical things, like mugs (Ugh. Mugs are the worst gift you can give anyone. Who doesn’t have 5,000 mugs they have to dispose of each year), but these sorts of gifts are practical for any writer and–while some might be on the cutesy side–they will get used.

Best of luck braving the crowds this season for those who dare venture out to the malls. If you’re like me, though, you stick to online shopping. It’s much safer.

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