Tuesday, 26 July 2011

How to construct an article outline

Janice from Milton Keynes sent in the following query: I have some great ideas for articles, so I approached a national magazine. The editor answered saying to submit an outline of the proposed article. Can you tell me what should go in the outline?

An outline shows the proposed subject matter and how you intend to deal with it. Before writing an outline, it is essential you know exactly what you are going to write and have done all the necessary research and collating of facts.

Make short notes on each aspect of the article and then juggle them around until you have the feel of the piece. One way of doing this is by writing the ideas on pieces of paper or card and shuffling them into order. You can also type them into a word document, then cut and paste until you are satisfied with the way the article is going to be focussed.

Before you write the outline, start by imagining the editor. She is sitting at her desk opening perhaps the twentieth query letter of the morning and it is only 10am. Out of all the information you have collected for your article, what would make her put your query into the tiny ‘maybe’ pile instead of the overloaded rejection tray? What is it about the article you intend to write that would capture her interest and make her want to find out more? Whatever it is, that’s what goes into the intro section of your outline.

For the layout of the outline, centre your working title a few lines down from the top of the page, with your byline underneath. Drop down a couple of lines and write your outline.

For example:

Love Me, Love my Article
Great Writer

Intro: This is where you put your killer opening. The information used in such a way that the editor cannot fail to be interested. You could use the first few lines of the article as you intend to write it. Or you could put in some startling and little-known fact. Or ask a question that demands to be answered.

Main body: This contains the main points of interest and shows the tone the article is going to take.

Ending: Wrap up the article, so that it ties together all that has gone before into a cohesive whole. It is a good idea to refer back to the intro, if it is feasible to do so.

The outline should not take up more than a page, so keep to the point, but make sure the tone of the article comes through. If you intend to use humour, don’t tell the editor that, show her by using humour in your outline.

This is by no means the only way to write an outline, but it is one I have found to result in more acceptances than rejections.

The Writer’s ABC Checklist

Monday, 25 July 2011

Long Lists for Flash Fiction and Humour Verse Competitions

The long list is up ...
... on the Flash 500 winners’ page. These stories are now being whittled down to create the shortlist. Once again, we had an incredible batch of entries – with stories arriving from no fewer than 40 countries. If you fancy entering this quarter, the details of the competition can be found on the Flash 500 website.

And the humour verse long list has also been decided
I’m delighted to say that I've been presented with the long list for the humour verse competition and you can see which poems made it here on the humour verse winning entries page. It's now up to me to choose ten of these poems to make the shortlist and from there pick the winners. From what I've been told by the primary readers, the standard was extremely high and I'm going to have my work cut out.

For this competition the entries also arrived from far and wide. Poems came in from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore,Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The brief is for humour verse up to 30 lines in length, so if you feel like entering this quarter, more details can be found on the Humour Verse Competition Website. 

Judge for third quarter 2011
I'm delighted to say that our first ever judge has returned to preside over the next quarter. You can find out more about Simon Whaley on his judge's page.

Resource page
A few more links have been added to the writers’ Resource Page since the last newsletter. Once again, if you feel a site should be on the list, but isn’t, let me know and, if it fits one of the categories, I’ll add it. Send details to: info@flash500.com Please pass the Resource Page link on to all the writers you know. 

Phew! That’s all for now, other than to say I'm really looking forward to having a chuckle reading the twenty-five poems that have made the long list.

Best wishes until the next newsletter when the shortlist will be announced,
The Writer’s ABC Checklist

Monday, 18 July 2011

Tips on writing fantasy by Jo Reed

Thinking of writing fantasy? Today Jo Reed, author of the Blood Dancer series of novels, shares her expertise. 

Writing fantasy is easier than most other genres, someone said to me the other day, because you can just make things up as you go along. There aren’t any rules – it’s not the real world, so you can do anything you like. It’s an opinion I’ve heard many times, but as any writer who has tried their hand at fantasy knows, nothing could be further from the truth. Creating your own universe is an exciting prospect, but it is a path fraught with pitfalls that even the most experienced fantasy writer can fall prey to.

To start with there’s that question of rules. Every world has them, and if you are making them from scratch, it’s much harder than using the ones that already exist around you. Readers need to understand how that world works, so once you have established an environment, and what your characters can and can’t do, you’ve made a contract you can’t get out of. Successful writers are ones who construct the rules at the outset, know them inside out and make sure everything, from characters to the weather, obeys them. Readers of fantasy have very high standards. If you slip up, they’ll be the first to tell you!

Having spent a very long time creating a new world and sorting out exactly how it works, there is always a temptation to tell readers, in painstaking detail, all about it, and forget that what you set out to do was tell a story. The characters should demonstrate what is and isn’t possible as the plot unfolds, just as they would in a conventional setting. I can think of one or two epic fantasy novels, even from writers I greatly admire, that fall into the trap of pages of scene description with nothing much ‘happening’ – at which point I skip to the next bit of action, regardless of whether I might have missed something important. Usually I haven’t, although I can understand the writer wanting to show just how much work they have done on the fine points. Readers just want to know what happens next!

Fantasy, just like every other genre, needs to follow the conventions of good storytelling. It sounds obvious to say that it needs a beginning, middle and end, but what makes this so much harder to achieve in fantasy writing is that it may take three or even more novels to complete the story arc, and the writer has to keep readers interested through a huge number of pages. The characters may be supernatural in some way, but they must have recognisable emotions, flaws and attributes that make people care what happens to them, and keep on caring through the gaps between publications. That’s tough! 

Jo Reed lives and works as a writer and lecturer in the Southwest of England. She is the author of the Blood Dancers series of novels, the first of which, The Tyranny of the Blood, was published by Wild Wolf Publishing in 2009. The second novel in the series, A Child of the Blood followed in 2010.

Jo won the Daily Telegraph travel writing award in 2009, and her short stories have appeared in many national magazines, including Mslexia, The People’s Friend and Words with JAM. Her next Blood Dancers novel, Malim’s Legacy, is due for publication later this year, and she is currently working on a fourth novel.
The Writer’s ABC Checklist

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Lorraine Mace talks (even more than usual)

As some of you will have seen in my column in this month’s Writing Magazine, I was recently interviewed about The Writer’s ABC Checklist by the lovely Ian Skillicorn of Talking Bookshelf.

Ian has put together a special section of his site which gives free advice to writers – so it’s well worth visiting.

And, for anyone who'd like to hear the podcast, here it is:  Lorraine Mace interview
The Writer’s ABC Checklist

Friday, 1 July 2011

Traveller's Tales

Fancy being a Travel Writer? Do you want to get invited to VIP events, or use the Press and VIP areas at exhibitions, shows, etc?

The guest post today comes from well established travel writer, Lyn Funnell. Lyn has kindly shared with us some of her tips and advice for those wishing to follow in her footsteps.

As Lyn says: Yes, it is fun to be greeted with coffee and breakfast when you arrive, or to watch something going on from a rooftop bar, while drinking wine and eating lunch.

I never know what email is going to pop into my inbox next. It adds excitement to my life! I may suddenly get an invitation to a restaurant launch, or to Rimini or Cuba, or who knows where?

What do you have to do to join this exclusive club of writers?

You have to write. And you need referrals. No, that’s not as dumb as it sounds. You’d be surprised at the arrogance of some people, who know what I do for a living and think, ‘I could do that!’ Then they approach newspapers and magazines and ask if they can write for them!

Duh, there’s something missing here, eg. some writing!

How do you start? The best way is to start writing for your local newspaper. They’re all struggling financially, so you won’t get paid. But they appreciate a local contact.

Pick a subject. You have to work this out for yourself. Now I’m going to go against what I just said. There’s a growing number of magazines, especially online, being launched in this country who expect their contributors to work for nothing. Stop and think now. Are they working for nothing? Of course not! They are getting contributions from second-rate writers who have often been turned down by the Biggies. It lowers the quality of their publications. And it is making it harder for professional writers.

But then again, if you sense a good contact, go for it. But only once or twice.

I’ll back-track now. As I said, start by writing for your local paper. But don’t belittle yourself.

Another problem with the bad small mags is they often edit your work. And the staff are not professional writers. They can make your article look amateur.

The worst thing that happened to me was an edited plural with an ‘s. My pet hate. I wrote to them and said that I was now forced to change my name and emigrate!

Make sure that you control your own work. Don’t grovel. It’s your reputation that’s on the line.

What should you write about? Travel, of course! Forget anywhere abroad at the moment, unless you have a holiday booked.

Write about your own town, or an interesting place nearby. There are a lot of British-orientated magazines always looking for colourful articles. Remember that Britain is a big place!

Always, always carry a notebook and a million pens with you! Write on the hoof. Scribble away as you walk, or ride on a coach, plane or train.

Invest in a good camera. They’ve dropped right down in price and the quality of an average-priced camera is good enough for magazines. Photos, photos, and photos!

Be organised. Carrry a light-weight bag slipped over your shoulder so that your hands are free. Wear your camera. Have your notebook within reach.

Be bold. Is there a historical building in your town, used as a factory? Pop in there and ask questions. Most people are helpful.

Find that unusual angle.

Join the International Travel Writers’ Alliance. Tell Ashley Gibbins that I highly recommended him. Membership is free.

Don’t underestimate yourself. But don’t overestimate yourself! When you look back in a few years at your first attempts, that you though were sheer brilliance and couldn’t understand why they were turned down, you’ll probably cringe with embarrassment!

Don’t give up. Keep learning and improving. Read, read, read. You’ll learn so much from other writers. My favourite travel writer is HV Morton. He died 32 years ago this week. He wrote a lot of books, and they’re still masterpieces today. I laugh aloud and I wish I could write like him.

But I will one day. I just keep trying and improving myself.

Lyn Funnell is an author, speaker, writer, journalist, travel writer (specialising in culture, food and crafts) and a radio presenter. She is a member of Southeast Authors, the International Travel Writers' Alliance, the London Press Club, the Society of Women Writers & Journalists, Women in Journalism, Gorkanapress, the London Comedy Club and the British Fantasy Society. Her articles have been published in newspapers and magazines, both in the UK and abroad. I have a regular weekly column in our local newspaper. So far this year her press trips have taken her to Reims, Rimini and Cuba.

The Writer’s ABC Checklist