Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Everything you need for NaNoWriMo

Na-No! *Clap Clap*

Wri-Mo! *Clap Clap*

Na-No! *Clap Clap*

Wri-Mo! *Clap Clap*

Yes, it's that time of year! Time for tens of thousands intrepid souls to ignore friends, family and pumpkin spice everything in order to write themselves a novel.

National Novel Writing Month!!

Some of you might be writing your first novel, some of you might be writing your tenth, but it will be a great experience for everybody.

Here are some resources that might help.

First and most importantly, all of my very best writing tips are contained in my guide to writing a novel: How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Ultimate Novel You Will Love Forever. The great James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner, said these kind words:
"In his 47 brilliant rules, Nathan Bransford has nailed everything I've always wanted to tell people about writing a book but never knew how. Wonderfully thought out with lots of practical examples, this is a must-read for anyone brave enough to try their hand at a novel. It's also a great review for experienced writers. Highly recommended."
Check it out!

However, if you prefer your advice for free you have also come to the right place! Here are some posts that will help you along the way:

How to write a novel (overview)
How to choose an idea for a novel
How to get started writing a novel
How to find a writing style that works for you
How to get over writer's block
Make sure your characters have goals and obstacles
All about conflict
Seven keys to writing good dialogue
What makes a great setting
Do you have a plot?
Five ways to stay motivated
The solution to every writing problem that has ever existed
Writing Advice Database

Good luck!!






Monday, October 27, 2014

In which I took an unplanned but happy break from writing

This happened! I'm on Instagram here.
I didn't intend to take nearly a month off of blogging and writing entirely, but that is exactly what ended up happening. Thank you for your inquiries. The missing person report was perhaps a little excessive, but nonetheless appreciated.

One of the interesting things about being a blogger and writer is that you have to wring your life like a wet towel and see if you can find some spare droplets of time. Lately my life towel has been bone dry. I haven't even been on Twitter!

Things like this can happen to any writer:
  • My day job is going so great that I am throwing my brain into it with reckless abandon and leaving myself with little spare mental energy for side projects.
  • Oh, but I do have side projects! I'm taking a General Assembly class on product management in order to help me develop great websites for my day job. It's been an excellent learning experience.
  • And I've been freelance editing, which has been really fun! It's great to be working directly with authors again.
  • And then I went on vacation (see above photo).
Writing? What's that again? 

Sometimes you can wake up and look around and you haven't written a word for two months. And it can spark a bit of an identity crisis. 

"I'm a writer! I write! I'm not writing! What am I doing?"

And sometimes it feels like you get divided so thin that your passion projects don't receive that laser focus that they need to come to fruition.

Then I try to remind myself that it all comes together in the end. Things are going well. I'm happy. I'm getting things done.

Sometimes the writing can wait.






Saturday, September 20, 2014

Want a free query critique or copy of How to Write a Novel? Let's chat!


UPDATE 12:04: My slate is now full! Thank you so much to everyone who reached out!

I'm working on a very interesting project for a very interesting General Assembly class on product management, and I would love 10-15 minutes of your time today (Saturday) or tomorrow (Sunday) to ask you a few questions. Yes, you! Let's talk!

In exchange, I will give you a free query critique OR a copy of How to Write a Novel.

We'll chat briefly about your experience having your writing critiqued, in addition to such completely optional topics as bad reality television, the weather in your locale in comparison to the weather in Brooklyn (which is fabulous, thanks for asking), and the iPhone 6 ZOMG the iPhone 6.

If you're interested, please shoot me an e-mail at nathan [at ] nathanbransford.com. Offer is good for the first ten people.

Thank you!

Art: A Conversation by Vladimir Makovsky






Friday, September 19, 2014

The Past Few Week in Books 9/19/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
Links!

First up, friend of the blog Stephen Parrish is conducting a fundraiser to establish a fellowship in honor of Christine Eldin, a beloved member of the writing community who passed away a few years ago. Please check out the fellowship page, as well as the fundraising page on Indiegogo, where there are many quality items up for bid.

Now that Amazon has launched Amazon Unlimited, the Netflix-for-books-ish subscription service, should self-published authors opt their books in? David Gaughran investigates.

Speaking of Amazon, they recently launched a new program aimed at making it easier for children's book authors to self-publish, with such features as text pop-ups and easier illustration insertion. Very interesting.

Have independent bookstores improbably weathered the e-book transition better than chain stores and are they even on the rise? Zachary Karabell makes the case in Slate.

Do elite MFA programs have a race problem? NPR took an in-depth look.

Don't forget about the discussion forums, where you can have your query critiqued and talk writing with some great authors!

Why in the world does everyone in dystopian movies wear knitwear? Vulture takes a look at the great moments in Dystopian knitwear.

And finally, today is iPhone 6 release day! My good friends at CNET have all the latest reviews. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an iPhone 6 to play with.

Have a great weekend!






Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What is the biggest obstacle you've overcome to be a writer?


Writing can be tough. And that's even without those external obstacles that can get in the way of achieving writerly dreams.

What's the biggest obstacle you've overcome to be a writer?

Mine was failure to believe that I could actually be a creative person who could actually write a novel. I don't know what I thought a "creative person" was per se, but I did think it wasn't me. That is, until I got over that and decided instead to just go for it.

What about you?

Art: The Bullfight by Auguste-Francois Bonheur






Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Page Critique: Let actions speak for themselves


Page critique Tuesday!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. Also, I'm offering personal consultations and edits if you're interested in that.

First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to XXX, whose page is below:
Gone, Kitty, Gone: A Brock Rockster Mystery 
Middle-grade mystery/comedy
I smashed my steel-toed loafer through the front door and tumbled in, where I landed face-first on the floor of the large, dark foyer.
“Worst! Day! Ever!” I yelled. I knew everyone in the house was sleeping, but I didn’t care. I was upset, and with good reason.
“Carver!” I picked myself off the ground. “Carver! We need to talk!”
My perfect record had been shattered. When I woke up this morning I had been Brock Rockster, The Boy Who Always Got His Man, the twelve-year-old mustache prodigy and world’s greatest private investigator to the stars. I was untouchable, unstoppable, and undefeated – but not anymore. After today’s calamity, I didn’t know what I was.
I saw a room dimly lit off to the right and stomped toward it, each step echoing through the otherwise silent house. A reading lamp glowed in the room’s far corner over the head of Carver McCarver, who sat at her desk surrounded by stacks of papers and folders.
“Hello, pard,” she said. She finished reading the sheet in front of her before looking up. “Find Mr. Janston’s statue?”
“Janston got his weird little sculpture back just fine, Carver, but it wasn’t me that found it,” I said.
I took my fedora hat off, and Carver tipped her Stetson back in response. Carver was well over ninety years old, but had the energy of someone a third her age, and the wisdom of someone who’d seen the pyramids built.
This is an extremely solid, nay, excellent, nay, nearly flawless first page. The voice is strong, there's some solid wit and humor, the concept is fun, and I enjoyed the descriptions. Very very well done and I want to read more.

I'm going to pick two nits here. The first is a very common mistake, which is over-telling emotion. After Brock stumbles in and yells, "“Worst! Day! Ever!” and notes that he doesn't care if he wakes everyone up, it's a bit redundant to then say, "I was upset, and with good reason." It's already apparent.

People often say show-don't-tell, and this is one of those classic cases. Show emotion, don't say what the emotion is. People will get it.

Secondly, people don't generally say each other's names in the middle of a sentence, and it can sometimes break up the flow to include it. I'd remove "Carver" from the second to last paragraph.

But seriously, those are two arguable small changes that are arguable. This is in very good shape. My redline:

Gone, Kitty, Gone: A Brock Rockster Mystery 
Middle-grade mystery/comedy
I smashed my steel-toed loafer through the front door and tumbled in, where I landed face-first on the floor of the large, dark foyer.
“Worst! Day! Ever!” I yelled. I knew everyone in the house was sleeping, but I didn’t care. I had a good reason to be upset.
“Carver!” I picked myself off the ground. “Carver! We need to talk!”
My perfect record had been shattered. When I woke up this morning I had been Brock Rockster, The Boy Who Always Got His Man, the twelve-year-old mustache prodigy and world’s greatest private investigator to the stars. I was untouchable, unstoppable, and undefeated – but not anymore. After today’s calamity, I didn’t know what I was.
I saw a room dimly lit off to the right and stomped toward it, each step echoing through the otherwise silent house. A reading lamp glowed in the room’s far corner over the head of Carver McCarver, who sat at her desk surrounded by stacks of papers and folders.
“Hello, pard,” she said. She finished reading the sheet in front of her before looking up. “Find Mr. Janston’s statue?”
“Janston got his weird little sculpture back just fine, Carver, but it wasn’t me that found it,” I said.
I took my fedora hat off, and Carver tipped her Stetson back in response. Carver was well over ninety years old, but had the energy of someone a third her age, and the wisdom of someone who’d seen the pyramids built.
Nice work!

Art: Sherlock Holmes by Frederic Dorr Steele






Monday, September 15, 2014

Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry


When someone asks me what all the hullaballoo about YA is these days, I don't start by talking about Twilight or The Hunger Games, I talk about how there is Literature, with a capital L, being written for young readers, books that are both accessible and fun to read but full of meaning, beautiful prose and depth. It's an incredibly exciting time to be a reader, and I'm so jealous of all the Kids These Days.

Case in point are the books by my good friend Sarah McCarry, first her incredible debut All Our Pretty Songs, but even more especially the prequel Dirty Wings.

Dirty Wings is about the deep, intense friendship of the mothers of the main characters in All Our Pretty Songs, when they were teenagers with hopes and dreams and confusions, and it's told with such beauty and precision.

But hey, don't take my word for it, here's what Kirkus had to say (in a starred review, naturally):
The prose is exquisitely crafted, moving effortlessly from dizzying to heartbreaking. Each setting—an exhaustingly filthy punk house, the New York street where Maia’s hermitlike father suddenly comes to life, the Mexican beach town where the girls’ road trip ends—is vibrantly constructed through careful detail and spare but evocative prose.
A breathtaking companion volume, fully readable on its own and devastating in the context of its predecessor.
Looking to see what all the YA hype is about? READ THIS.






Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Guest post (and giveaway!) - How and when to revise your manuscript


Nathan here! I'm very pleased to have a guest post today by David Zeltser, whose debut novel LUG is going on sale today!

Better yet, we're giving away three signed copies of LUG! All you have to do is leave a comment asking to be entered (non-anonymously please!), and we'll choose three random winners.

Here's David's post:

At every stage of your writing life—from newbie egg, to agented caterpillar, to published butterfly—you will be asked to revise your work. In this guest post, I’d like to share a few of the edits I’ve taken, and not taken, and my golden rule for revising.

The Newbie Egg Stage

When you’re first starting out, your friends and family will dutifully read whatever your hand them. Then they’ll come back to you with stiff little smiles and say things like “it’s good,” “nice work,” and “great job!” The temptation is to believe these oh-so-sweet big fat lies.

Don’t.

In fact, at this point, your job is to try to pry the truth from their stiff little grinning lips. It may take some convincing but, ultimately, they will reveal all.

And then, when they let loose, it’s your turn to grin and bear it.

Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Let’s call it:

The Newbie Egg’s Golden Rule of Revising

Almost all readers’ suggestions have something of value. The key is not so much to take them verbatim as to find the underlying problems that inspired the suggestions--problems that the readers are often not even consciously aware of. If you can detect those issues, you can choose the best way to revise.

Once you’ve dived in and taken a pass at fixing the deeper problems, show a few other people your respect. Put your manuscript away for a while. Keep repeating until you’re happy and your readers are no longer just politely grinning. Then, I hope you’ll find yourself in. . .

The Agented Caterpillar Stage

If your agent is worth her salt, she too will have revisions. My agent is Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. With her permission, I’d like to share a few key excerpts from her LUG edit letter to me:
The Environmental message
I think that the coming of the Ice Age and the parallels with our current environmental crisis are a strong selling point for this book. Lug’s talent is that he is extremely observant and the subtle way you handle this at the moment is perfect. I do however think that you could use some more funny observations from Lug and evidence his frustration that no one else around him seems to notice what is happening to the world. Kids have an uncanny way of zoning in on what’s really important and feel powerful when they can see something that adults can’t. 
Characters
I do think that the relationship between Lug and his father is important and could use development especially in the context of choosing the next big man and banishment from the tribe. I want to see more interaction between Lug and his family at the beginning of the book, especially Big Lug. If we see, clearly, what Lug has—we understand better what he is forced to leave.   
Language
In terms of the language I think that I would tone down the ‘cave man’ talk. It is always risky to use dialect as it can fall very flat and draw attention to the author. Lug is speaking in perfectly formed English so I’d consider having the others do so as well – even if it is in very clipped, short bursts. 
Once you and your agent are happy with your chrysalis...ur...manuscript, my hope is that you’ll emerge into . . .

The Published Butterfly Stage

Once you have an editor at a publishing house, you book is in the final revision phase! Although I was excited to steal almost all of my editor’s suggestions for LUG, I thought it might be useful to share a rare example when I chose not to take one. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to my editor on that topic:
In a few places you've asked for the removal of certain words or concepts because they seemed too sophisticated for the Stone Age. I had thought about doing this quite a bit in my first drafts of LUG, and ultimately decided against it. Basically, I concluded that I would not write this story as hard (or even soft) science fiction, but rather as satirical comic fantasy. 
She quickly took the point, helping me to fine tune the intentionally anachronistic words and concepts I used to satirize our society’s inaction on climate change. I’m grateful to all my editors/readers for their enormous help. I also want to say a big thanks to Nathan Bransford for the opportunity to guest post on a blog I’ve found very useful in my own writing life.

Watch the LUG book trailer and learn more about all the books here.






Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How do you name your characters?


This question comes from reader Puneet Agrawal, who is wondering about a seemingly simple and yet quite complicated and important question: How do you name your characters?

Where do you draw your inspiration? What's your process? Do they just come to you or do you spend time brainstorming? Do you draw upon any resources, like baby name books or census data?

I'm personally partial to naming important characters after coffee drinks. What about you?

Art: The Gardener by Paul Cezanne






Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Page Critique: The danger of starting with dialogue


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. Also, I'm offering personal consultations and edits if you're interested in that.

First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to ria, whose page is below:
“We have damned the world,” Adriel said. 
“Come again,” Zachery said. 
They stopped at the pond, where Zachery fished some crumbs from his pocket and tossed them towards the ducks. Overhead, the shops and homes of the upper city clung to the walls of Drieh’s three lofty towers. A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees. 
“I’ve felt ripples of energy,” Adriel said. “Here on Altara. And in the netherial. I picked it up a few months ago, and it gets worse every few weeks.” 
He hadn’t felt anything of the sort, and his work relied on the netherial. “And what does this have to do with us damning Altara?” 
“I traced its energy signature back as far as I could and it originates with the Calamity. Something we did back then is building up to... something.” 
He let crumbs fall from his fingers onto the water’s surface. “This makes no sense, Adriel. No one else has felt anything. What you’ve described is impossible.” 
“I only brought this up because I thought you’d care. And I thought you might have felt something in your portals.” 
Zachery looked across the pond. A portal rose between the trees at the far end of the park, two slender pillars of dark rock curving toward each other with an arch of pure magic suspended between them. Anchor and focus, two simple elements that made up one of the most complex constructs on Altara.
There is some great writing here. This: "A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees" is just an awesome and evocative sentence. And the slender pillars of dark rock are also intriguing and mysterious.

I'm afraid I'm a little less sanguine about the dialogue. Here's the challenge of beginning with two people talking to each other: the reader has zero context to understand what they're talking about. They don't know who the characters are, they don't know what world they're in, they probably don't understand the references the characters are making to each other. 

It's sort of like attending a dinner party where everyone makes veiled references so you can't understand what they're really talking about. 

It's not impossible to begin with dialogue, but even if it starts that way it's extremely important to focus on making sure the reader feels very grounded in the story.

With a little more patience and anchoring the story, the dialogue will come alive. 

Here's my redline:
“We have damned the world,” Adriel said. 
“Come again,” Zachery said. 
They Adriel and Zachary stopped at the pond, where Zachery fished some crumbs from his pocket and tossed them towards the ducks. Overhead, the shops and homes of the upper city clung to the walls of Drieh’s three lofty towers. A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees. 
“I’ve felt ripples of energy,” Adriel said. “Here on Altara. And in the netherial. I picked it up a few months ago, and it gets worse every few weeks.” 
He Zachary hadn’t felt anything of the sort, and his work relied on the netherial. [More here on what Zachary is thinking about what Adriel just said in order to help give the reader context, as well as what the netherial is.]  “And what does this have to do with us damning Altara?” “I traced its energy signature back as far as I could and it originates with the Calamity. Something we did back then is building up to... something.”  He let crumbs fall from his fingers onto the water’s surface. 
“This makes no sense, Adriel. No one else has felt anything. What you’ve described is impossible.” 
“I only brought this up because I thought you’d care. And I thought you might have felt something in your portals.” 
Zachery looked across the pond. A portal rose between the trees at the far end of the park, two slender pillars of dark rock curving toward each other with an arch of pure magic suspended between them. Anchor and focus, two simple elements that made up one of the most complex constructs on Altara.
Thanks again, ria!

Art: Reinier Vinkeles by Charles Howard Hodges






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