GET YOUR STORY PUBLISHED by Miko Johnston

Have you ever tried to get a story accepted into a writing contest or juried anthology? Wouldn’t you love having a covert resource who can give you a competitive edge? If so, then read on because I am going to share with you my secrets for getting your work published.

First, some background. Several years ago, I tried to get a short story accepted into a Sisters In Crime anthology. I wrote what I thought was a good story that fit the theme and technical requirements. I ran it though a few critique groups to help me polish it. When I got the notification that the piece wasn’t accepted, it broke my heart. I made it my mission to get my work accepted into the following anthology. The result: my story “By Anonymous” made it into Last Exit To Murder, published two years later. I succeeded in more ways than one; having a story in a prestigious anthology helped me win a publishing contract for my novels.

The experience taught me that it takes a lot more than just writing a good story to get your work into a competitive publication.

I       THE MORE SPECIFIC, THE BETTER

It’s hard enough to figure out what editors will consider ‘good’ or worthy of publication, but it’s even harder when they don’t clearly define what they want. If getting published is your goal, your odds are always better with a single genre competition and a clearly defined theme. Focus on competitions with a limited scope. ‘Stories under 500 words’ is vague , but ‘Heartwarming stories about rescued animals’ is more specific.

II      READ THE SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES CAREFULLY AND BELIEVE THEM

Every contest or anthology will issue submission guidelines that contain vital information. Guidelines begin with an explanation of what the stories should contain or be about. For example, mystery anthologies generally want stories that include at least one murder or serious crime. If there is a theme, the guidelines will often state how the theme should be incorporated. Remember: the more specific the requirements, the easier it is to figure out what the editors want. Pay attention to technical information such as word count, page set-up, method of submission, and deadline for entries. Take that information seriously; consider them demands, not requests.

III     LEARN FROM THE PAST

Writing contests and anthologies are often sponsored by established organizations. Unless the sponsor is new, go back and read their previous publications. Determine what type of writing appeals to them. If everything they’ve published is dark and esoteric, your hilarious page-turner probably won’t get accepted. If the mysteries tend to be cozy, save your gruesome piece for another publication.

The sponsor’s website can provide invaluable help. Search online for any information about the selection process or editing of past competitions. I researched the Sisters In Crime L.A. website archives and located an old interview with the editors of an earlier anthology. All of them agreed that stories about previously unknown aspects of the city were more interesting than those that focused on familiar places and events. The anthology selections supported that. Which brings me to the next point:

IV      AVOID THE OBVIOUS

If the theme is U.S. landmarks, leave the most popular choices to ‘Family Feud’ and go with something less familiar. There are two reasons for this: First, many writers will select something famous like the Hollywood sign or the Statue of Liberty. Since editors may want one story based on that location there’s more competition. Or they might get bored reading story after story about the same place and reject them all. Secondly, as already stated, stories about unknown or unusual places and events appeal to editors. Think how omnipresent the White House has been in films, but we vividly remember Mt. Rushmore in “North by Northwest” or Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” because they stand out due to their uniqueness.

V       WORK IT, WORK IT, WORK IT!

Everything I’ve shared with you so far will give any writer a competitive edge. The rest is up to you, though. You have to write a unique story. Start early, as soon as the announcement comes out. Brainstorm a few possible themes and work on them until you have a strong idea for a story. Take every advantage you have. I submitted one story to that first anthology although two submissions were permitted. For the next anthology, I finished my story months in advance and decided to write another before the deadline. I’m glad I did; the first piece was rejected, but the second one made it into the anthology.

Will any of my tips guarantee your story will get published? Of course not, but I assure you it will increase your chances of success. Good luck!

 

 

Fun with Writing by Miko Johnston

MikoJ Photo1Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

Fun with Writing

Have you ever read a book that got you scratching your head and wondering, how did this mess ever get published? Perhaps the story started out great, then took a turn for the worse. Maybe at some point it read like a different author took over. Or the book was laughably awful from Once upon a time, but since you’ve always liked the author you stuck with it through the equally bad they lived happily ever after. This has happened to me too often, so I want my revenge!

Thanks to the inspiration of these bad novels, here’s a few writing exercises you can do on your own or with your writer’s group that will not only help sharpen your writing skills, but may provide a few giggles and even a groan or two.

I. BOOK DOCTOR

First, find a truly awful book. Unfortunately, it’s not that hard, but if you’re stumped, pick a genre and Google: worst (publisher) ever, or just: worst (genre) book ever and see what comes up. (Hint: I tried this using a well-known publishing company; their name is synonymous with Romance, though ironically, a synonym for ‘clown’.)

Then find a few paragraphs, a page or a short scene in the book that stands out as excruciating. Look beyond mistakes like spelling or grammar, you want prose you need a steak knife to cut through, or a decoder to comprehend. Now here’s the hard part. Read it a few times to determine exactly why it’s so awful – awkward phrasing, clunky dialog, too much or too little description – and try not to laugh. That might be the hardest part.

Then rewrite the passage in a way you think improves the work. You’re not looking to change the story, but to make it comprehensible and entertaining, introduce what’s missing – tension, clarity, recognizably human behavior.

You can do this exercise on your own, but it’s especially fun to do with other writers. Then once everyone finishes laughing over the original version, they can compare notes and see how each one reinterpreted the dreadful pages.

II. WORST LINE EVER

Take a page (pun intended) from the many ‘bad fiction’ contests: redirect your masterful literary skill and write the worst line of fiction ever. Mind you, this is not about bad grammar or a weak concept. This is about truly pathetic prose. Skip piecemeal and terse; instead, head directly for convoluted and illogical, but in a funny way. Challenge your writer friends to join you and then compare. If you need inspiration, review the first paragraph of BOOK DOCTOR above.

ak_570_rashomon

III. “RASHOMAN”

The classic Japanese movie tells a story from the point of view of several characters. If you are part of a writers group and would like a fun exercise, try this:

Select a well-known historical incident, or find a story reported in the news, one that involves multiple individuals, such as a crime. Establish the story in the omniscient point of view – just the facts, so to speak. Then assign a character to each writer, who then tells the story from that person’s perspective. If any of the characters intersect, then the writers documenting their stories can work together to create those scenes. If you’re feeling extra-creative, make up your own story. Afterward, read all the individual accounts and see how well they link together, and how much they may differ.

IV. CREATE AN INDIVIDUAL CHAPTER BOOK

Remember the old game of telephone, when you whispered a story to someone and then they whispered it to the next person, and so on? By the end of the line, the story usually bore little resemblance to how it began.

I once belonged to a writers group that decided to produce a novel this way. They came up with a basic premise, really an idea to launch the story. Then one member wrote the opening chapter and passed it along to another writer, who created chapter two. By the end of the book, the story had emerged in an unusual way. The writers found the challenge of following and continuing the threads already written to be intriguing, but very challenging. They chose a science fiction genre, which allowed a degree of latitude in creating each successive chapter.

Although their book followed a linear storyline, it might be easier to create an episodic novel, similar to TV shows like “Route 66” or “Highway to Heaven”. If you try this, I would recommend selecting one genre and sticking to it. If dragons or flying saucers appear in the middle of your contemporary political thriller, it may get chosen for the next BOOK DOCTOR.

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Tell us of your experiences with these or similar writing projects.

Forward Into the Past by Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.
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She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at
 Amazon.

When I was a kid, I loved imaginary games, where you established a world and then went there to play. Until kindergarten, many of the other kids in the neighborhood would join in, but by second grade, they’d all abandoned make-believe for Milton Bradley, preferring the organized play of board games to pretending, which they viewed as childish.

Board games like Monopoly and Life held no interest for me. The object was to win, and while skill played some part, winning depended on luck, literally a toss of the dice. Even without knowing what would happen, you knew the limits of what could, and it always ended the same way, with only the name of the winner changing. But even worse, to play you had to follow a precise set of rules, and I hated to follow rules when I played. With make-believe, you set up a situation, give yourself, your playmates, and your surroundings roles, and then see what happens. Two chairs and a blanket becomes a fort, or cave. A bed serves as a life raft as you flee a sinking ship, or the deserted island where you land. The network of cellars that interconnects apartment buildings on a city block are the tunnels and alleyways where the good guys and bad guys dart about and hide out, planning their strategies for battle. The goal wasn’t to win, but to experience an adventure. To have fun.

I sought out younger companions to continue my penchant for imaginary play, but eventually they, too, stopped. But I never did.

When you don’t have playmates to share in the experience, you create the games in your mind, including all the characters, the setting, the situations, the problems. You play it at night in bed, before you fall asleep. You daydream it when there’s nothing better to do. Maybe you write it in a notebook.

When I became a teen, many of my friends had crushes on some singer or actor. I was rather naïve, but I saw an opportunity, picked a harmless teen heartthrob and joined in the fun. A few of us would make up fantasies of what it would be like to be with these men, or at least, who we imagined them to be. They were really empty shells, with the physical presence we saw on album covers or on television, which we filled with all the qualities we imagined they would have. All the qualities that would appeal to a shielded thirteen-year-old, that is. But at a certain level they, and the fantasy lives we shared with them, became real to us.

Yes, I did play with board games, coloring books, paper dolls and real dolls. Outside we’d jump rope, play hopscotch, tag, or handball with my friends. It was fun and I enjoyed it, yet I always elevated make-believe to the highest level of play, and in a sense, I still do.

Is it any wonder I became a storyteller?

From Screen to Page, Part 3 by Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of Petals in the Wind.  
She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.




FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3

 

Today we wrap up our discussion about the basic rules of screenplays that would benefit fiction writers. We’ve already covered the four story questions every writer must be able to answer (see post from September 9), and how your protagonist must undergo a transformation (see post from November 4. And now the final point:

 

ü  Use the three-act structure in novels

 

Most plays and films are written in three acts. It’s a time-proven method to follow when writing any long form fiction, including books, because it provides structure without limiting creativity.

 

In a novel, Act I begins with Once upon a time and ends around the first crisis, or inciting incident – the event that launches the story. Act II follows and is often divided into two scenes with a second crisis point in the middle. This mid-point crisis lifts up the middle of the story and raises the stakes. Act II ends around the final crisis point, the story’s climax. Act III resolves the climax and takes us to the story’s resolution and ideally, a satisfying ending.  

 

Here is a simple diagram illustrating the three act structure as it appears in novels:

  

            

The four segments represent the acts and scenes, divided by vertical lines denoting the three major crisis points, each higher than the previous one. The peaks and valleys track tension, and the horizontal line at the bottom represents the story synopsis.

 

As the diagram shows, if you write your novel with the three-act structure in mind, it creates a solid foundation, a floor on which to build your novel –the protagonist’s arc, the plot – and a firm base to plant your crisis points. The structure provides guidance in finding where the story needs to be cut and where it needs to be fleshed out. If you want to create well-defined crises, steadily increase the tension throughout, and avoid the dreaded ‘middle act slump’ that dooms so many tales, use the three-act diagram like a map to lay out your first draft or direct you through a revision.

 

One way to see if your novel fits into the three-act structure is to take a sheet of paper, fold it in half twice lengthwise and twice widthwise. Open it; you’ve created sixteen crease boxes on your paper. See if you can summarize your novel in the sixteen boxes. Ideally the first row would cover the beginning through the inciting incident, the second row would end at the mid-point crisis, the third row would end at the climax, and the fourth row would include the story’s resolution and end. You can see by this exercise that Act II, or the middle of your story should be approximately the same length as the beginning and the end combined. If one section is bloated and another is skimpy, it can indicate your pacing is out of balance. Maybe the beginning drags, or you rushed the ending, or the middle isn’t developed enough. The crease box exercise works like GPS to identify problems in your manuscript.


A related screenplay rule that is especially relevant to short form fiction writers is: Keep the story simple. Unlike novels, where you must have at least three crisis points, in short form fiction there are only two – the inciting incident that launches your story, followed by a steady build-up to the climax and resolution. Don’t overcrowd your flash fiction or short story with too much plot or sub-plot, too many extraneous characters or locations. Instead, add complexity with multifaceted characters, crisp dialogue that drips with subtext, and vivid bites of description. Very short pieces can consist of a single scene – think of a standout commercial on TV as a visual form of flash-fiction.

 

Here’s a bonus: If you have scraps of ideas floating around but nothing firm enough to write about yet, try planting the idea on the diagram above. Often, when you decide where the idea should fall in the story structure, you ground it enough to work out more details and launch a story concept.

 

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If you have found this series helpful, we Writers in Residence would like to hear from you. If you didn’t, let us know that as well.

 

 

New Miko Johnston Novel Released!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a fabulous announcement

A Petal in the Wind Book II: LaLa Hafstien is available in paperback on Amazon and for Kindle! We are so pleased for author Miko Johnston!  Here is a quick preview of the book:

Luska, the orphaned girl introduced in A Petal in the Wind, begins a new life in Bohemia as Lala Hafstein, adopted daughter of Jakob and Sarah. It’s 1914; Lala is now a young woman with one desire—to study art—but her parents won’t let her reside alone in Prague. She contrives a marriage to her childhood friend and art student Armin, her father’s wealthy employer’s son; she would be free to join him, and he could silence gossip about his disinterest in women. Armin agrees, but Lala’s heart is troubled.

Both families are thrilled about the engagement, and now Armin is too—believing they can make the marriage “real.” Lala is shocked when she uncovers proof Armin and his male classmate are more than just good friends. But with both families intent on the marriage, and Lala wearing the heirloom family engagement ring—how can she renege? She’s haunted by a recurring vision—at her easel wearing her ring, and feeling the warm embrace of her true beloved, unseen behind her. How could this splendid dream ever come true? As both families travel to Berlin for Armin’s art show on August first, a desperate Lala devises a way to change her destiny—but no one is prepared for the horror that begins that momentous night. As the world around her plunges into war and fate drops a surprising hint about her repeating dream, Lala finds she must battle the nightmares of the past, or risk being set adrift again—like a petal in the wind.