King Henry VIII, My Husband, and the Pissing Drunkard

Research is part of every writer’s work. Years ago, writing my first historical novel, I discovered an eye-opening research resource close to home. My husband.

The Queen’s Lady is set in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. Now, Henry and my husband share no similarity regarding tyrannical rule and beheaded wives – I married a thoughtful, peaceable man. He is, however, endowed with the standard issue male anatomy, and this helped my research. Here’s how.

In my first draft of the novel, I’d written a scene of a Midsummer Eve celebration in which boisterous revelers dance around bonfires, lovers steal kisses, and a drunk old man pisses as he staggers through the crowd. Wait a minute, I thought. Can a man do that – urinate while walking?

I took the problem to my husband. “Can a man do that?” I asked.

“I’ll go see,” he said, and walked out the door.

Thankfully, we lived on sixty rural acres, at the end of a dead-end road. Not a soul around.

Five minutes later he came back in. “Yup,” he reported.

You can see why I value this resource.

How about you? Any adventures in research?

 

Barbara Kyle

P.S. Write a book that agents and publishers can’t resist — one that leaves readers saying “I couldn’t put it down!” Learn how with my online program “Your Path to a Page-Turner.”

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Wise Advice from a Legendary Agent

Years ago, when I was querying agents about my first novel, I read an interview with top agent Albert Zuckerman in which he was asked, “What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d give a new writer?” His answer was, “Be willing to work your ass off.” Aha, I thought (in my naiveté), he means the whirl of book launches, media interviews, and book tours.

Nope, he meant the actual writing.

I was thrilled to sign with Al. He has represented me through the publication of ten novels, and my book sales recently topped over half a million copies. (That’s Al with me, below, guest speaker at my Crafting the Page-Turner symposium.)

Barbara-Kyle-and-Al-Zuckerman

And how right he was: succeeding as a writer takes serious work.

But it’s exciting work, and the rewards are so very satisfying. Those rewards – representation by a well-connected agent, a book contract with a major publisher, and global book sales – are what I want for you.

Having worked in this business for years, I know what agents and publishers are looking for, what they want – and don’t want. What they always want, whatever the book’s genre or target audience, is a page-turner. A story that leaves readers saying, “I couldn’t put it down!”

That’s why I created my new online program “Your Path to a Page-Turner.” It has become a game-changer for many:

The ‘Your Path to a Page-Turner’ program is magnificent! It is most definitely helping me grow as a writer. I love your tips. One of them really caused a shift in me.” – Jacqui Gajewski

“There is so much I took away from the program. I will definitely keep going back to the videos until I can recite them verbatim 🙂– Vince Santoro

“I’m learning so much from the program. Once I started the exercises, it was like a dam burst. I got over my fear of starting and just wrote and wrote.– Susan Leeming

The Your Path to a Page-Turner Program has one purpose: to give you the practical, in-depth information you need to write a richly engaging story that can attract a major publisher.

I’ll be your mentor to guide you, but you are the hero of this story. The word “hero” in the classic literary sense means someone who’s on a challenging quest, and from it learns something profound. And the word “mentor” in the classic literary sense means someone who prepares the hero to embark on that quest. Your desire to perfect your craft as a writer is a meaningful quest. In fact, I consider it a noble calling, because humanity lives by its stories. And nothing makes me happier than empowering an emerging writer to create a wonderful book.

Sign up today for the “Your Path to a Page-Turner” Program and let it open the doors to your success.

All my best,
Barbara Kyle

Purple Prose vs. the Real Deal

I spoke by Skype recently to a very gifted writer I’m mentoring, and he told me his previous attempts at fiction were an embarrassment of “purple prose,” the phrase writers use for overblown, overwritten language. He had, he said, cured himself of that failing. I told him his purge of purpleness was a fine goal.

But then I told him he might have gone too far.

By hacking out all the overwritten material, he had inadvertently cauterized his story’s lifeblood: the characters’ private thoughts and feelings. What I call their “Inscape.” He had reduced his characters to just actions. He’d left out the thing that readers crave to know: the “why.” The motivation.

Lady-Writing

Inscape is the only way a reader can get to know a character intimately. It’s the only map for discovering a character’s truest heart. Not what they say. Not even what they do on the surface of their lives. Inscape, instead, lays bare the person’s hidden self: their secret longings, their darkest fears, their private joys. Their deepest self.

Getting there, though, is a process. Writing is not a science, it’s an art. And sometimes we find our way to art by overdoing, by overwriting, by being overblown. Because that’s how we dig deep, how we plumb our characters’ most profound desires and fears.

Only by hauling up loads of ore can we sift and refine, and thereby find nuggets of gold.

So I say to thee, “Go forth and overwrite.” Then, my friends, wisely refine.

All my best,
Barbara

P.S. Set out on the path to success as a writer with my exciting new online program “Your Path to a Page-Turner”.

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Common Problem, Easy Fix

If you’re a writer, you delight in words. Word patterns. Word play. Word power. The love of words is in our DNA.

Words are also the most basic tool you have in creating a story. The wise writer chooses words very carefully.

Mentoring a writer recently, I pointed out that his use of Latinate words tended to weaken his prose. He asked what I meant by “Latinate,” and when I explained, he got it immediately and was eager to revise. So, let me share the concept with you, because it’s such an easy weakness to fix.

Latinate words are English words that have their origin in Latin. For centuries, Latin was the language of the educated classes (the clergy and lawyers), so people who wanted to sound educated used Latinate words. The habit persists to this day, and usually for the same reason: the wish to sound cultured. But Latinate words seldom have the power and clarity of ordinary, everyday English words – Anglo-Saxon words.

Latinate: He descended the stairs and exited his abode where he encountered the female who resided in the neighboring domicile. Observing her magnificent physique as she passed him, he contemplated his aspiration to engage her in conversation, and in supplementary acts.

Anglo-Saxon: He went downstairs and left his house where he came upon the woman who lived next door. Gazing at her buxom form as she passed him, he thought about how much he wanted to talk to her, and more.

George Orwell, author of Nineteen-Eighty-Four, and a master of robust, plain English, said: “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

So, be sincere to be clear. And, always, enjoy your love affair with words!

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Take advantage of the low introductory price for my new online program, “Your Path to a Page-Turner.” You’ll learn how to create a book that excites agents and publishers and thrills readers. Sign up now – the low, introductory price disappears next week.

All my best,
Barbara Kyle

www.BarbaraKyle.com

Your Path to Writing a Page-Turner

Announcing!

I’m so excited to share this with you. My new online program “Your Path to a Page-Turner” is now live.

I designed this program to help you create the kind of book that excites agents and publishers and thrills readers. A page-turner. A book that leaves people saying, “I couldn’t put it down!”

Ready to Move from Emerging Writer to Published Author?

It’s not as hard as you might think.

There are no rules in writing. (Well, just this one: Thou shalt not bore.) Seriously, every rule that’s ever been made has been broken by some writer to good effect. But, while there are no rules in writing, there are principles that have shaped the art of storytelling for centuries. A rule says: “You must do this.” A principle says: “This works, and it has worked through all of remembered time.”

Those principles are what you’ll learn in the “Your Path to a Page-Turner” program.

The Path to Success

In my career as the author of ten novels with sales of over half a million books, I’ve faced every challenge you’re facing now. With the “Your Path to a Page-Turner” Program, I’ll be your mentor on the path toward success.

You’ll get:

  • My 23 new videos covering the essentials of creating a book that will excite agents and publishers and thrill readers – plus insider tips on navigating the publishing industry.
  • My unique “Practice Like a Pro” exercises to take your writing to the next level.
  • An invitation to join my private Facebook group, open only to participants in the program. Here, your program colleagues and I will support you on your writing journey and cheer you on.
  • Continuous, unlimited access to all the materials above.
  • A big saving with the special introductory price of just $125. Sign up soon, because this discounted price ends next week.

Want a preview? Here’s one of the program videos: Tips From a First Draft Survivor

So take advantage of the low introductory price and get started!

All my best,

Barbara Kyle

www.BarbaraKyle.com

Grow as a writer. Dare to succeed

I Know How You Feel. I’ve Been There.

In my career as an author, I’ve faced every challenge you’re facing now. Writing a compelling book takes serious work, but the rewards are so worth the effort.

Let me tell you a true story. Years ago, like every new writer trying to break in with their first novel, I sent queries to agents, then waited and hoped. One morning, I got a call from a New York literary agent who said she was so excited by the description of my book, she wanted to see the full manuscript immediately. Ecstatic, I sent it that very afternoon.

Soon after, I got her terse written reply: “Alas, the manuscript did not live up to my expectations.” Those were her exact words. I was devastated. Tears flowed. Then weeks of agonized self-doubt. Maybe I didn’t have what it took to be a writer. I was ready to give up.

Then, a few days later, that same query attracted legendary agent Albert Zuckerman of Writers House who has shepherded dozens of bestsellers. He, too, asked for the full manuscript. He read it – and loved it! He offered to represent me, I eagerly signed the contract, and within weeks Al sold the book to Audrey LaFehr at Penguin, who said it was the best historical novel she had ever read.

Amazing, isn’t it – from “alas” to “the best.” That book sold 75,000 copies and became the first in my seven-book Thornleigh Saga series. My sales have now topped over half a million books. So, I’m here to tell you that although the journey to write a book and get it published can hit you with heartbreaking moments, it can also bring joyful surprises. If you persevere, success can be yours.

Countdown to Launch!

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I’m excited about this! My “Your Path to a Page-Turner” Program will launch at the end of April. We’re putting the finishing touches to the videos now, and I can’t wait to offer the whole program to you.

·       Be inspired and energized by my 23 new videos that cover the essentials of creating a story that will leave readers saying “I couldn’t put it down!” – and learn how to get it published

·       Take your writing to the next level with my unique “Practice Like a Pro” exercises

·       Join my private Facebook group, a new online community where your program colleagues and I will support you on your writing journey and cheer you on

·       Get my insider tips on how to navigate the world of agents and publishers, so your book can break through and make it to the top

I’ve created the “Your Path to a Page-Turner” Program to help you write a book that will excite agents and publishers and thrill readers. Full details coming here soon!

Grow as a writer. Dare to succeed.

Barbara Kyle

P.S. You’ll find helpful writing tips on my Facebook page “Barbara Kyle, Mentor to Writers.” If you visit it, please “like” it!

Pitch Perfect: 10 Tips for Writing a Successful Query

Finished your book? First, congratulate yourself. Writing a book is a marathon, and only those who’ve made it to “The End” understand the determination it requires.

Now you want to get it published, and that’s your next challenge. In today’s tough marketplace you get only one chance with each literary agent or acquisition editor at a publishing house to interest them in your story. That one chance is the query letter.

It may be the most important piece of writing you’ll ever do.

What is a Query Letter?

It’s a sales pitch, pure and simple. Its sole purpose is to intrigue a publishing industry professional enough to want to read your book. A successful query is one that gets them to ask you to send your manuscript. Like I said, simple.

Well, not quite. As former agent Nathan Bransford says, “A query letter is part business letter, part creative writing exercise, part introduction, part death defying leap through a flaming hoop.”

So here are some tips to help you clear that hoop.

My Ten Tips

  1. Limit your query to one page. Even if it’s an email, stick to the one-page rule. It’s what publishing professionals expect.
  1. Structure your query in five brief sections: introduction, basics, hook, mini-synopsis, bio.
  1. This is your chance to connect with the agent or editor on a human level. If you enjoyed a talk she gave at a conference, say so. If you love his blog, tell him that. If you’re a fan of an author she represents or publishes, gush a little (but just a little). Be real. Build rapport.
  1. State your book’s title (in caps), its genre (e.g. mystery, romance, thriller, YA fantasy), and the word count rounded off to the nearest hundred.
  1. Give one concise and intriguing sentence about the story. For example: “THE KITE RUNNER is a tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that sweeps from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.
  1. Mini-synopsis. Describe your story in two or three short paragraphs. This is hellishly hard, like trying to enclose an ocean inside a bottle. My advice is don’t try to cram in the entire plot; it will make you crazy. Stick to the central character and the story’s central conflict. Don’t get sidetracked into subplots or theme. Read the back covers of books in your genre and note how the publisher has described the story’s protagonist and conflict is in a single, engaging paragraph. That’s the effect to aim for.
  1. Include in #6 one or two comparables. A comparable is a successful book you mention to explain your book’s target audience. Agents and editors need to know where your book fits into the market. A good way to say this is that it “would appeal to fans of [author]'” or is “in the vein of [book].” Keep it recent; publishers aren’t interested in what sold forty years ago. And keep it rational; no boasts about how your book will be a bestseller.
  1. Tell something about yourself, preferably related to writing. For example, mention anything you’ve had published, such as a short story, or any writing contest you’ve won. If you’ve had nothing published, stick to info about yourself that you feel might be of interest.
  1. Finally, close your query with two crucial points: tell them the full manuscript is available, and ask if you may send it to them.
  1. Send as many queries as you like. The rule about not sending multiple submissions applies to manuscripts (once they’ve been requested), not to queries. You can broadcast queries.

All my best,

Barbara Kyle

P.S. You’ll find lots more information and tips about getting published – including truths about the publishing industry – in my book Page-Turner: Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy. It’s available from Amazon.

“Literary” or “Popular”: Which Kind of Writer Are You?

A half-dozen genres constitute “popular” fiction: romance, mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Genres matter to publishers, because a book has a better chance of selling when readers know its category: there’s a proven market. So, the likeliest way for an emerging writer to break into the business is with a genre book.

But some novels don’t fit a genre, and are often classed as “literary.”

What differentiates literary fiction from popular fiction? Well, there are no hard rules, and there’s a great deal of overlap, such as the literary thrillers of John LeCarré. However, in broad terms, I would differentiate the two by these five criteria:

Action. In popular/commercial fiction the protagonist is pro-active; he or she is actively seeking something, actively dealing with conflict. In literary fiction the protagonist is often more passive and introspective.

Conflict. In popular fiction the protagonist struggles against primarily external forces of conflict: other people. The literary protagonist often faces mostly internal conflict: him/herself.

Causality. In popular fiction the world is a place of cause and effect: characters take actions that have meaningful results. This expresses the connectedness of life. In literary fiction, randomness often rules the universe, expressing the disconnectedness of life, the sense that people have little control over the haphazard nature of existence.

Language. In popular fiction all that’s necessary in style and language is clarity, what George Orwell called “windowpane” prose. Literary fiction focuses on artistic language. The aura of poetry is the hallmark of a literary novel.

Closure. In popular fiction closure is essential—that is, at the end there’s a meaningful resolution to the protagonist’s struggle. Literary endings are often open-ended, sometimes even ambiguous.

So, which kind of writer are you?

All my best,

Barbara Kyle

P.S. Find out more about what agents and publishers are looking for in my book PAGE-TURNER. It’s available online from Amazon!

 

The Essential “Three A’s” of a Page-Turner

In my career as an author, I’ve faced every challenge you’re facing now. Having had ten novels published with sales of over half a million books, I know what agents and publishers are looking for, what they want—and don’t want.

What they always want, whatever the genre, is a page-turner. A book that leaves readers saying, “I couldn’t put it down!” So, let me share with you my thoughts about the essential “Three A’s” of writing craft.

Actors
People. A book’s characters. They are the lifeblood of your story. People are what readers come to a book for, and why they stay. Long after a book’s plot intricacies and carefully sculpted sentences have become a blur in the reader’s memory, what lingers is the impact of the characters. Vibrant, unique characters live on for years, even—from Moll Flanders to Ebenezer Scrooge—for centuries.

Architecture
Story structure. The backbone of your book. You likely have a good instinct for this already, but instinct will take you only half the way. When it falls short, an operational understanding of story structure gets you moving again. This knowledge is essential, yet often under-appreciated by emerging writers. The cleverest wordsmith and most gifted creator of characters cannot bring these riches to a wide audience unless they are delivered in the “Story” form the human mind is hard-wired to receive.

Adornment
Style. The actual words you write. I use the somewhat dismissive term “adornment” to convey the vital truth that of the “Three A’s” style is the least crucial. Don’t misunderstand—word choice is important. Tinted by evocative imagery, it can even be sublime. But a deeply engaging story with vibrant characters will live for a reader even if the prose is unadorned. The reverse is not true: exquisite prose cannot carry a stagnant story about dull people.

So what, exactly, constitutes a page-turner? What is the mysterious literary essence that hooks a reader and doesn’t let them go? I offer this one word answer: emotion. Character creation, story structure, and style are not ends in themselves. They are merely tools to produce the result we want: a meaningful emotional experience for the reader.

When characters in a story move readers to pity, or laughter, or loathing, or dread, or just the simple warmth of human fellow-feeling, that’s what makes them keep turning pages. They crave to know: What’s going to happen to these people? They care.

Whether you’re revising a story, or just starting one, or are still in the dreaming stage, focus on this guiding mantra: Make Them Care.

Grow as a writer. Dare to succeed.

All my best,
Barbara Kyle
www.BarbaraKyle.com
bkyle@barbarakyle.com

P.S.  Big thanks to all who’ve posted such glowing reviews on Amazon for Page-Turner. I’m delighted the book has meant so much to you!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

rock-and-hard-place

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I once heard bestselling author John LeCarré give an interview in which he spoke about the role of conflict in fiction. He said: “‘The cat sat on the mat’ is not a story, but ‘The cat sat on the dog’s mat’ — that’s the beginning of a story.”

Readers love to see characters thrown into a crisis, forced to grapple with problems. Why? I don’t think it’s because we’re sadists. It’s because we read novels to experience an emotional bond with a character who faces a dilemma. We feel: what would I do in that situation? That’s the reason we read stories.

Yet emerging writers often shy away from depicting their characters’ conflict. This undermines the power of their book, because nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict. So, embrace all richness that conflict gives you as a writer.

When I’m planning a book, scene by scene, I ask myself, partly in jest: “What could possibly go wrong for these characters?” Ask yourself that same question continuously about the story you’re developing: “What could go wrong?” Then, seriously, make that happen.

Here are three tips for working with conflict in your story.

Tip #1. Don’t be intimidated by the word conflict. Conflict does not mean combat. It just means problems. What problems does your protagonist — your main character — face in trying to achieve his or her goal? Conflict occurs because the protagonist, wanting something, comes up against some someone with a goal that’s in direct opposition to theirs. So, create situations that put increasing pressures on your characters, forcing them into ever more difficult dilemmas, so that they must make increasingly risky choices, leading them to take actions that eventually reveal their true natures.

Tip #2. Escalate the conflict in your story gradually. To be believable, characters in a story, just like people in real life, will naturally start by taking the most conservative action possible to get what they want. If they don’t – if they leap into taking extreme action – they will come across as unrealistic, and you’ll lose your reader. So, the long middle section of your book will be composed of a series of events that spring from conflict that gradually escalates.

Tip #3. Your protagonist can be in conflict on three possible levels:
• Internal conflict: conflict with oneself.
• External conflict in the form of inter-personal relationships: family, friends, colleagues.
• Extra-personal conflict: conflict with the larger community in the form of powerful institutions, such as the government, the church, the school system, the army.

The most compelling stories, the stories that stay with us forever, often involve conflict on all three levels: personal, inter-personal, and extra-personal.

In contrast, consider what we call “soap opera.” The term is often used as a pejorative. Why? After all, soap operas, watched by millions, are highly engrossing.

I think the reason we sense weakness in the soap opera form is that it shows us conflict on only one level: the interpersonal. It does that with great panache — it’s the strength of soap opera, because interpersonal relationships are so engaging. But it’s also incomplete. Characters in a soap opera rarely face internal conflict – there’s rarely a crisis of conscience – and they never do battle with extra-personal forces. For example, if a cop enters a storyline on a soap, you can be sure he’ll soon be caught up in the highly personal concerns of other characters — the story will not be about corruption in the police department. So, there’s virtually no conflict with the self, nor with society. It’s all one level – momentarily very engrossing, but ultimately unsatisfying.

We are moved most deeply by stories in which the characters are engaged in all three levels of conflict. That’s partly what creates the enduring power of classics like David Copperfield. Frankenstein. A Passage to India. Heart of Darkness. The Age of Innocence. The Grapes of Wrath. Gone with The Wind. To Kill a Mockingbird.

Never shy away from embroiling your characters in many swirling currents of conflict. It will prove their mettle, make them reveal their true selves. Conflict is the fuel that propels every page-turner.

Happy writing!

Barbara Kyle

 

P.S. Want more tips? Get my book Page-Turner: Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy.