Thursday, February 26, 2015

3 Reasons Why The Novel Is More Important Than Ever.

The novel is not the exclusive domain of good writing; I have seen well-written words on tweets, blog posts, pins, bathroom walls, carved into the bark of beech trees, and scrawled on bits of used envelopes. But there is something about the novel--something we are losing. Consider this quote from English teacher extraordinaire and novelist Conrad Tuerk: a high school English teacher, I have seen firsthand (social media's) insidious effects on today's youth.  Not only are their language skills poor, but they lack the attention spans to sit quietly with a novel and ponder its depths.  The same point you make about the novel can be made for long form journalism.  It gives substance to short news bytes and allows for critical investigation.

Depth, substance, richness: These are just three of the attributes of the novel. I suspect you will be able to build that list from your own experience as a novel reader; let me add from mine. Consider the following three novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, The Power and the Glory.

If you have not read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, pick up your Kindle, grab your Nook, type Amazon into your browser, or--best yet--go to your local library or book store. In his iconic work, Greene portrays a man's journey to sainthood, a journey which leads him through neither joy nor self-satisfaction, but rather through self-loathing and despair. It would be quite impossible to construct such a tale in any form other than the novel. You can do a lot with 140 characters--but even Greene needed 222 pages (in the Penguin Classics edition) to get the job done.

I got dragged into reading The Power and the Glory because it was required reading for a class I was taking--by the time I turned the last page I was not the same person who started the book. That's one of the things a good novel will do. A good novel affects you; changes you, heals you, inspires you. We need more of them.

"It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization - it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt." -Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

The Lord of the Rings has been called everything from an extended allegory of Jesus Christ to the best motion picture in the history of film. I call it the best novel of all time, in that it has everything a novel should have: memorable characters, a riveting story, good prose and dialogue, and meaning. I will add that it is neither concise nor simplistic. Consider this: Tolkien created at least 18 different languages, complete with vocabulary and rules of grammar, including the 12 different tongues spoken by Men in three ages, and the languages of Elves, Dwarves, Ents and Mordor, called the Black Speech, which shall not be uttered here. Think of the complexity and labor involved in writing a work which involved making up 18 different languages--and please don't think this process was only incidental to the writing. Tolkien himself, in one of his many letters, wrote: 'The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.' Try making up 18 different languages in 140 characters.

Why bother? Think how this work has endured, how its relevance has not been lost to time or change or the assault of digitilization. The Lord of the Rings has endured because of its complexity and scope and depth, not in spite of it. Change and evolution are good things, but in this hyper-evolving world, it is important to remember from whence we came--good novels do that.

J.R.R. Tolkien “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” -J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

What more can a reviewer say about To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's classic tale of race relations in the Deep South; ranked above the Bible by the Association of British Librarians as the book to read before you die. (And those British Librarians know their stuff.) Somewhere around my fortieth year, my wife discovered I had never read Mockingbird and so she gave it to me as a birthday gift. And so I read the book and found out what all the British Librarian buzz was about. Much has been said about the book and I won't simply re-write it. But I will add something: Attitcus Finch--who is not a real person--made me want to be a better person. To Kill a Mockingbird inspired generations of Americans--not to mention scores of British Librarians--to be more just, more open-minded and more courageous. I don't know of many #tweets that have done that.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what." -Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

Thanks again for your support. Make sure to visit My Website, and my author blog, PeterHogenkampWrites. By way of announcements, I am happy to announce the upcoming launch of fellow Prose&Cons blogger Jan Moran's debut novel, The Scent of Triumph, which has received excellent reviews. The Scent of Triumph (Macmillan) is available on March 31, 2015; you can click on the link to pre-order and read the reviews.

Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writers: Are You Using Hashtags Effectively?

If you're anything like me I was utterly baffled using hashtags. Sure, I'd seen them around. You'd have to be blind not to see them everywhere. I'd even used them a time or two when I was searching for a pitch party. But I had no idea how much they could impact my online presence.

First let's start with why you should use them.

Hashtags are crucial for writers who...
  • are building, or continuing to build, an online presence
  • want to sell their books without spamming people
  • want to reach their readers and piqué new readers' interest
  • want to connect with other writers
Still not convinced? Check out what I learned through my research.
  • By using one or two hashtags in your tweet you receive two times more engagement than without them.
  • Tweets with one or two hashtags have a 21% higher engagement than those with three hashtags.
  • When you use three or more hashtags your engagement level actually drops by 17%.
  • Individuals who use hashtags can see a 100% increase in engagement.
  • Brands-- authors-- can see a 50% increase.
  • Tweets with one or more hashtags are 55% more apt to be read.
And all because of a little #. I didn't make this stuff up. It's from Twitter's own research.
The type of engagement I'm talking about is retweets, clicks to your post, favorites and replies. Hashtags are crucial in today's social media world!
Many of you follow me on Twitter (I follow back) and I've noticed that several of you don't use hashtags. So, I'm thinking you either don't understand how to use them, or you're wondering how a little # symbol could benefit you. Both of which applied to me until recently.

There are rules you should follow when using hashtags.

Please don't go hashtag crazy or you'll lose your advantage. One or two hashtags that relate to your content max. It's best to use hashtags on Googe+, Twitter and Instagram. On Facebook there's no correlating data that says a hashtag does any good. Actually, experts say that posts without them fare better. Since hashtags have only been around on FB since 2013, and three months later they ran their research. Should you abandon them entirely on Facebook? It's best to test it yourself and see how they do.
Today let's concentrate our efforts on where there's a proven track record that they work. On Twitter, Google+, and Instagram you get the most bang for your buck. On Google+, your posts are given hashtags automatically based on the content, but you can also edit them or add your own. Also unique about Google+, you can add hashtags in your comments as well as your post – double the opportunities to be found.
And since Google+ is Google’s social network, hashtags are now built right into Google searches. If you type in a hashtag search, you’ll get the normal search results plus a sidebar of relevant Google+ posts.
You might be tempted to use a hashtag or two in your post title. Please don't do this. It will only clog up the stream. The best way to use them is when you tweet your post, then add a hashtag or two that relates to your topic. Or, when you tweet someone else's post. Do them a favor and add a hashtag. It only takes a second to do, and they'll really appreciate the extra effort you put in.
Don't worry if you forget, though. I'm guilty of this, too. However, once you remember shoot another tweet out there, one with the hashtag. If you don't remember until later then just do it the next time you visit that site. No big deal. Certainly no one will complain if you forget a hashtag. If you remember, though, people will appreciate the effort. And why not help our fellow writers out by extending their reach.
You see, when you add a hashtag your tweet goes beyond your followers to a designated spot-- for instance #amwriting-- and then everyone who reads that hashtag will see your post.

How will I know what hashtags to use? 

I found this chart on, entitled "100 Twitter Hashtags for Writers". You can view the original by clicking the link above. But here it is in its entirety.

100 Twitter Hashtags for Writers

To connect with other writers use:
##1K1H (write one thousand words in one hour)
#MyWANA (writer’s community created by Kirsten Lamb)
#NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month is held every November)
For genre specific:
#MGLit (middle grades literature)
#PoetryMonth (Each April in the USA)
Promotion, Networking and Marketing:
#99c (to offer or pick up an eBook bargain)
#Novelines (to quote your own work)
Books and Reading:
Book Industry News and Publishing Tips:
#IAN1 (Independent Author Network)
And that doesn't include the list of pitch party hashtags that are out there. Some of which you can find here on my blog.
On Literary Agent Carly Watters' blog recently she mentioned using a hashtag for your upcoming release, to start promoting your book before it hits the shelf. Example: #MARRED
Here's what she had to say:
When you talk about your book–leading up to publication–you must use a hashtag that captures the title. There are no excuses on this one. If you want to connect your readers to you and each other, you must be providing a link of communication. A hashtag of your title is that link. Readers want to socially engage with each other. They want to share quotes, reviews, and more. Give them that opportunity by leading with example. It’s not cocky to give your book a hashtag, it’s a reality of social media.

Did I forget to mention any hashtags you use often? Help us out and leave it in the comment section.
How have you found hashtags to be helpful?
Sue Coletta is a member of Sisters In Crime. She blogs at: and is co-administrator/contributor for Prose & Cons and contributor for: and When she's not working-- which is practically never-- she enjoys playing with her two Rotties and strolling through her garden, that her husband maintains. Find her on Twitter @SueColetta1 or in her new Facebook group, Crime Lovers.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Beginnings and Endings

My mentor and fiction-writing coach, James N. Frey, says in a good story the ending is often implicit in the beginning. And there is something immensely rewarding about this circle where characters come back to the place they began—changed by the events of the novel.

This has proven true in real life for me during the last month. Many of you have been following the journey my family took this Christmas. My children’s father died last Tuesday, January 20th. While he’d lived a good life and was ready, it was still difficult to let him go. 

My daughter asked me to find a photo of the first time her father had held her. She wanted to put it beside the last time she’d held him. I knew how important it was to her and I knew the photo existed. I went through twenty years of albums, but didn’t find it. I eventually discovered the photo in a scrapbook where I’d placed cards and letters from friends and family welcoming Bonnie into the world. Next to the photo, printed in her dad’s very neat script, was the following journal.  He’d written it around midnight on the day she was born.

 Within the hour May 5th 1973 will recede into history along with all of its predecessors. To some it must have been an ordinary day that won’t be missed in the mélange of life. To me however, it was the day on which something unforgettable happened to me:  Let it be herewith recorded for history and posterity that on this day I, John Wesley Clayton Jr., saw Bonnie Elizabeth Clayton, my daughter born. I actually stood by the side of my wife and saw Bonnie emerge from her body.

To describe this event is to attempt to describe the indescribable. I don’t mean that the functional or anatomic components of the birth of my daughter could not easily be described as indeed these events have been in the medical texts on obstetrics. I intend something far different from the biological event. I’m referring to that overwhelming unity that I had with my wife. Something unique in the universe happened to us when Bonnie was born. It was as if I felt a part of her as I never before felt. We held each other’s hands during those final contractions. When I saw that God had given us a baby girl and then told this to my wife, a sensation of warmth and joy poured through me. We both shed tears of joy and in so doing experienced the ultimate in sharing. We were truly one in this act of love.  When Bonnie was born, the love we shared was reborn. The nurses and physician present realized something new had occurred because they were happy too. But they will never, never comprehend what transpired between the two of us. It was truly a renewal.

Tonight, in the hospital we reviewed the sequence of events that had occurred on this historical day. We recalled the details of labor and delivery—stopwatch in hand! After Bonnie was born (officially 12:23 a.m.) and her mother was taken to the recovery room, I followed. We embraced, and she said that I had now given her everything. I had known that she had wanted a daughter because she wanted to know that special kind of relationship that exists between mothers and their daughters. Neither of us spoke of this wish because we would have welcomed a second son into our family. But this baby—this Bonnie Elizabeth Clayton—received a welcome into our hearts as no other child before born of woman ever received.

Thank you God for this new life and the love that gave it birth.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Establishing Shot and Your Novel

Are you a visual writer?

As you sit and write your novel, do you imagine the action unfolding as clearly as if you were watching a movie?

That’s the kind of writer I am. Images and words are inextricably joined, inseparable until The End. I tend to visualize the action, the characters, the scenes, mulling them over and “watching” them interact and unfold, then take mad notes when I “see” something that works. The notes turn into manuscript pages and the pages into chapters.

Although novel-writing and screenwriting are two completely different animals, I have picked up more than one pointer from the film makers. By far, the most useful tip I’ve taken is the use of the establishing shot.

In film, the establishing shot is the opening shot that sets the scene—the location, the time, the spatial relationship between characters, even the concept of the story. Traditionally, this was accomplished through the use of a longshot or extreme longshot, although today’s film makers often skip it in order to get right into the action to establish a quicker pace.

Think about how many times we are chided to start in media res—in the middle of things—so that our first pages hook the reader. Those first 250 words are crucial if we want to catch the attention of an agent or editor. We can’t let readers fall asleep on the first page, can we?

However, that doesn’t mean there is no longer a place for an “establishing shot” in our books. You don’t need a lengthy scene set up to run as long as opening credits to an eighties romantic comedy but you do need a way to anchor the reader in each scene in order for them to become submerged in the story. Even in the case of the more modern action opener, the reader gets a strong sense of who and where when you establish the scene.

The Establishing Shot and Your Novel

You may only need a few sentences to establish each scene, using vivid imagery and well-crafted showing. Place your characters in the scene, and let the dialog and action take it from there.

Establishing your scene at the very beginning allows you to set the stage—and forget it. The story moves forward in the space you’ve created.

And believe me, you must establish the scene before diving into action or dialog. Otherwise, it’s all just too far out there for a reader to grasp. Have you ever read a section, turning pages and having no clue who is speaking, where they are, or anything of a truly grounding nature? Readers crave substance in a story. Settings are part of that substance.

Consider fantasy literature, with its extensive world-building. Because the writer may have to create a setting from the ground up, the establishing shots can get pretty lengthy if not handled properly. One of my favorite set of first lines does brilliant work with its “establishing shot”:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)
Tolkien had a lot of work ahead of him, what with the creation of Middle Earth and all. He developed that hobbit-hole, then Hobbiton, then Middle Earth itself little by little as the story unfolded. Pretty soon we were imagining pretty near what Peter Jackson tossed up on the screen. But it was those first lines—that “establishing shot”—that put us there at the very beginning.
(And I love the back-loading he used—the placement of a powerful word at the very end of the sentence. Comfort. It’s a personal word that calls up our own definitions, thereby further investing ourselves in that hobbit-hole.)
Each subsequent scene you write will need its own “establishing shot”, too, even if it’s not quite as brilliant or elaborate as Tolkien’s. Time, location, participants, concept—every scene needs to relay those elements or you risk losing the reader. Good use of “establishing shots” will take your reader from one setting to another without letting them get lost on the way.
Writing Exercise
Open your current manuscript to the first page and read until you reach your “establishing shot”. How close to the beginning is it? Even stories that begin with the full-out action hook need establishing shots in order to anchor the action.
If you do not set the scene up at the very beginning, you need to work thrice as hard to keep readers engaged until you provide them with story legs to stand on. How can you set the scene earlier?
The good news is that you may be a champion “establishing shot” writer without ever having had to think about it very hard. If that’s the case, your work will be to ensure that every scene has its set-up and that you don’t waste pages doing it. Set up a scene in a country mansion in Georgia with a lush establishing shot--then illustrate the details of the party and the wedding cake and the jilted lover one by one as you move the story along. You don’t have to mention the mansion in Georgia over and over because it’s been established.
The plot moves unimpeded by unnecessary words, while the reader always knows where the story is happening. By paying attention to your “establishing shots” you can be sure to keep the reader engaged. Not only will the setting be established but the reader’s involvement in the story will be established, as well.
And that makes for a happy reader.
Share it!
"Create the scene before diving into action or dialog using an establishing shot"
paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dark poetry, Kindle, Nook
Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) as well as the paranormal romance Words That Bind (Wild Rose Press). Ash is also a contributing editor at the QueryTracker blog.