Category Archives: Newsletters

This is the weekly newsletters for the Noble Pen Writer’s Group.

The Noble Pen for Oct. 26, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

October 26th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

To Kill a Mockingbird was removed from a school curriculum because it contains some bad words.  Never mind the lessons it can teach.  The NY Times has a longer discussion of book banning.

Victories

Deanna found one of her stories published in a literary magazine despite having received a rejection from that organization two years ago.

Uriah joined NaNoWriMo.

Stacie read Aime’s book.

Ciuin scrapped much of the later part of Chessmaster and is rewriting it.

Education

Do you use inspiration from real people to create characters?  Robert J. Sawyer argues that you shouldn’t have to, but the idea of totally making them up goes against something deep inside us, and may be harder than taking features from real people.

Here are ten famous characters modeled on real people.  And this article gives some examples, but lists several reasons why you usually shouldn’t.

If you do use celebrities or real people you have encountered, you need to research the legalities as summarized by a lawyer and this very practical discussion.

I never tell who it is I base my character quirks on in case they get offended, but I do base them on real people. As an actor I see myself a bit like a sponge where I absorb peoples different characteristics. It makes my characters on screen more realistic. ~Emily Blunt

Upcoming Schedule

October 26
Stacie S.
Stacy H.
Aime

November 2
Nick
Deanna (long?)
Aime

November 9
Laura
Ciuin
Uriah

November 16
Stacie S.
Open slots

November 23
Thanksgiving, no meeting

November 30
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Oct 19, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

October 19th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The world gets ever more sensitive to hurtful stereotypes.  Now a Dr. Seuss illustration has been found offensive.

Victories

Ciuin has Petty Theft in limited-edition print books, the culmination of ten years of work and worry.  She has the perfect cover picture.

Dylan finished 2nd pass edits on a commission and is writing the master plot for all of his Fedran world.  The plan encompasses 23 works, which includes five novels and a novella.

Eric finished the first chapter of his sequel, with the adventures of Jim’s son.

Uriah wrote a seven-page school paper.

Deanna did revisions.

Education

Some people advise all cliché phrases are to be “avoided like the plague.”  See Wikipedia discussion.  Writer’s Digest offers a short list of overused phrases.  Here’s a much longer list.

I’m not so sensitive to them as to ban all 681 on their list, and feel an occasional one can serve a purpose.  I see nothing wrong with “benefit of the doubt,” for instance, and wouldn’t object to occasional use of “ace in the hole”, “all in a day’s work”, or “crash course.”  I am, however, tired of “drives me up the wall ,” and “flat as a pancake.”

–//–

Backups are vital.   Someday you will need one when you are least prepared. What is the state of your backups if you had a crash RIGHT NOW?

Some people consider it necessary to have at least three copies of any important work, such as on the working computer, on a flash drive, and on a cloud storage service. If you burn CDs or DVDs that can be another option.  You could substitute more flash drives for the cloud service.  A good scheme is to have two or more and rotate which one you update in case you overwrite a version you wanted.

I find it useful to make a copy of the project file now and then with the date inserted into the file name, as  MyBook2017_10_12.doc so that I can go back and look at prior versions (the cloud may only keep old versions for a limited time).

If you know how to use batch files or command lines, this line is handy, with appropriate drive letter and folder name in place of those shown:
xcopy c:\MyBook e:\MyBook\ /D /S /R /I /Y
It will copy any newer-dated or additional files and only those files, from that folder and its subfolders to the other drive.  If the folder has blanks in its name, you must enclose the name in double quotes.  Windows should have made it easy to do this kind of copy, but didn’t.

Upcoming Schedule

October 19
Dakota
Uriah
Ciuin

October 26
Stacie S.
Stacy H.
Aime
November 2
Nick
Deanna
Aime

November 9
Laura
Ciuin
Uriah

November 16
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Oct. 12, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

October 12th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Recent announcements include the Nobel Prize in literature and the National Book Awards finalist list.

Victories

Aime started another story.

Dylan participated in ICON.

Ciuin sent Petty Theft to press for a small run.  She wrote four school papers.

Stacy is blogging.

Education

The Awesome Indies site has a great list of criteria for a well-written book and has assembled enough excellent educational material on that page and its links for a full-semester course in writing.

You are competing with perhaps a million titles per year.  Self-publishing has become easy and popular.  With that comes a huge volume of material with little quality control, making it hard to sort out the good from the bad.  Awesome Indies has been so overwhelmed with submissions of dubious quality that they now require either good reviews elsewhere or a substantial submission fee.

A few years back, Chuck Wendig the Crude (language warning) posted a rambling rant about the problem, that a lot of people agree with, and the situation has not improved.

In addition to bad writing, Amazon and other ebook purveyors have been plagued for years with trash “books” that may be thrown together without even a readable story.  With a few minutes work on multiple computers, those can be given good reviews to fool a few customers into buying them.

More recently, perpetrators have stolen real book content, used programs to change some synonyms and wordings to evade plagiarism detectors, and posted to Amazon for some quick sales, using several tricks to boost their apparent popularity.

It is also possible to produce automatically generated “books” that are just an assemblage of words that pass some algorithm.  While such a system could possibly be used to gather information on a subject, most such offerings are just spam.

Upcoming Schedule

October 12
Laura
Ciuin
Eric

October 19
Dakota
Aime
Ciuin

October 26
Stacie S.
Stacy H.
Uriah

November 2
Nick
Open slots

November 9
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Oct 5, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

October 5th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

A court case explores the limits of copyright for characters and parodies.

Victories

Aime finished the beta read for Ciuin.

Stacie S. has 50k words on Garden, out of an estimated final of 60k.

Eric journalled.

Ciuin wrote a new scene for Chessmaster.

Stacy H. is blogging.

Education

Charlie Jane Anders discusses seven types of story opening.  While she focuses on short stories, those same types can apply to longer pieces.

Scene setting was once a popular beginning, but today’s audiences seem to expect a minimum of scene setting before things happen, conflict is established, or something grabs their curiosity.  An interesting blog contrasts ACTION openings with ACTIVE openings.  You can have something going on without it being a battle or chase.

A forum post by “Arathald” uses the terms differently but expresses a similar idea:

Note that “action” doesn’t mean a fight scene or a car chase, it just means that something is happening. Maybe your character’s mother is crying, or his boss tells him he’s fired, or her credit card is declined at the fashion mall.

When I start like this, it makes it really easy to get into a story, instead of trying to figure out how to set it all up. This is also a great way to draw your readers in. Why is his mother crying? Did he really deserve to get fired, or is his boss just a jerk? How is she going to respond to her card getting declined, and how is she going to pay for that dress that she needs for the party? As mundane as these situations sound, they have a strong element of conflict, and that’s what you need to have a compelling opening and story.

Upcoming Schedule

October 5
Nick
Uriah
Stacy H

October 12
Laura
Ciuin
Eric

October 19
Dakota
Aime
Ciuin

October 26
Stacie S.
Stacy H.
Eric

November 2
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Sept 28, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

September 28th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Sept 21 set a record attendance for recent months, with 11 participants.

–//–

The National Book Awards list of nominees is released.

Victories

Randy’s book was featured with a big spread in the Bellevue hometown newspaper.

Aime wrote new material and made progress on a beta read for Ciuin.

Dylan finished a commission with only a small overage in length.

Ciuin finished a school paper.  She wrote two sections of Chessmaster. She has 3 of 4 beta responses for Petty Theft and is going through them.  One was a former teacher with whom she had a good and long discussion.

Cassie’s Skin Deep ebook is on Amazon.

Eric journalled this week.

Education

Can good fiction follow a formula? John Steinbeck said there isn’t a formula for making stories good.  Formula fiction has a bad name.

But this article says that even using a formula, the stories don’t necessarily come out all the same, so there can be a range of quality from the same formula.  A Huffington Post article discusses successes and failures that can arguably be formulaic.

This formula for a 6,000 word mystery story (but the ideas might apply for 60,000 words) comes from Lester Dent, who is best known for writing about ten Doc Savage novels per year for 16 years under the pen name Kenneth Robeson.  Some of his ideas apply to any fiction, particularly the one that says once you get your protagonist in a lot of trouble, you should next double their woes.

These authors discuss several formulas.

This blog argues that formula or not, it is very important to balance several aspects.

Upcoming Schedule

September 28
Ciuin
Eric
Aime

October 5
Nick
Uriah
(Dylan if needed)

October 12
Laura
Ciuin
Eric

October 19
Dakota
Aime
Ciuin

October 26
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Sept 21, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

September 21st, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Not everyone approves of the New York Times best seller list: NPR interviews an unhappy publisher.  The Washington Post story sees it differently

Victories

Dylan wrote 27,000 words for a commissioned piece.

Ciuin had an informative discussion on teaching minority languages with representatives from Kosovo and U of I.

Education

Setting is important for a story.  Courtney Carpenter discusses ten components of setting.

Josh Pahigian gives some reasons for setting your story in a famous place.  You have to know your territory and time period well, however, and it can be limiting because your characters’ movements and public exposure are constrained by the real culture and geography (unless you’re a successful author we won’t name who rearranged Rome for a key plot point).

You have much more freedom if you make up your setting, whether it is “Anywhere, USA” or Sirius 5, but then you are responsible for making it consistent with the expectations you raise in the reader.  Moira Allen has some advice on bringing the setting to life without stopping the story.

Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance. ~Eudora Welty

Upcoming Schedule

September 21
Aime
Uriah
Deanna

September 28
Ciuin
Eric
Aime?

October 5
Nick
Open slots

October 12
Open slots

October 19
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Sept. 14, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

September 14th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

If you don’t have enough to argue about, consider how to spell Shakespear(e).  A controversy has arisen on a campus.

Victories

Ciuin started edits on Petty Theft using what beta reader response she has.  She reworked a lot of Chessmaster.

A store requested Randy to do a signing.

Nick did cleanup edits.

Education

Writers Digest has an old but good article on storytelling techniques.  While focused on science fiction and fantasy, there is a lot to be gained for other genres.  It is important to give the reader enough information to follow the story, without overloading them with too much disconnected data to remember.  It’s a balancing act.  Generally you should not give the reader information until shortly before they need it.

An important method is giving information by implication.  If the characters know something, so they speak and act accordingly, then the reader can often pick up that information without being “told” and that makes the story flow smoother.  I’m very fond of the example from the opening of Heinlein’s story Free Men that I’ve quoted before, showing how a few lines of dialog paints the outline of the world the characters live in. He was an expert at immersing his reader in the world of the story without stopping to describe it.

“That makes three provisional presidents so far,” the Leader said. “I wonder how many more there are?” He handed the flimsy sheet back to the runner, who placed it in his mouth and chewed it up like gum.

The third man shrugged. “No telling. What worries me-“ A mockingbird interrupted. “Doity, doity, doity,” he sang. “Terloo, terloo, terloo, purty-purtypurty-purty.”

The clearing was suddenly empty

“As I was saying,” came the voice of the third man in a whisper in the Leader’s ear, “it ain’t how many worries me, but how you tell a de Gaulle from a Laval. See anything?”

“Convoy. Stopped below us.” The Leader peered through bushes and down the side of a bluff.

Notice that he does not tell you we are hiding in the woods with a resistance group in a country where a breakdown or conquest has splintered the loyalties of the population, because that can be inferred from the dialog and action.

This technique helps a lot with finding words to leave out, while still giving the reader what they need.

The best artists know what to leave out. ~Charles de Lint

The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in. ~Henry Green

Upcoming Schedule

September 14
Randy
Ciuin

September 21
Aime
Uriah
Open slot

September 28
Aime?
Open slots

October 5
Nick
Open slots

October 12
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Sept 7, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

September 7th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Barnes and Noble’s Nook division is purging books they consider to be promoting deviant sexual practices , hate, or excessive violence under new guidelines.  Some reports indicate 50,000 titles were taken down. Some of the books had  sold for years on Nook. (More discussion)  Authors have had accounts terminated without warning, although some have been restored.  Paradoxically, print editions of these books and e-books of some well-known works that would seem to violate those standards (e.g., 50 Shades and Lolita) seem to still be available.  It isn’t clear at this point what/who prompted Nook’s actions.

–//–

Someone attempted to game the best seller lists.  Makes you wonder how often anyone gets away with similar tactics.

Victories

Ciuin received the comments from a beta reader on Petty Theft.  She wrote on another fiction piece.

Dylan wrote 15k words on a serial.

Randy’s book was chosen for a Bellevue reading group and they ordered 15 copies.

Education

How do you write numbers, times, and money in your story?  A while back, Dylan found this excellent summary of rules.  There may be some variation in style guides, but it is a good starting point.

I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done. ~Stephen Wright

–//–

On a slightly related note, if your story is not set in our real world or its imagined future, what do you use for time, money, volumes, and distances?  This brief article summarizes the options.

A year and a day are natural to any planet with a single sun, but will differ in length from our own.  It’s unlikely a tavern on the planet Glurg will serve refreshments in pints or liters, so you need to use mugs or steins.

Distances present more problems, as chains, meters, kilometers, and miles are all culturally defined.   Astronomical units, parsecs, and light years are based on the earth and our solar system.  Feet and cubits are natural measures but depend on the anatomy of the possibly alien characters.

This discussion thread and this one don’t reach consensus, but offer some food for thought.

Upcoming Schedule

September 7
Nick (long)
Deanna (long)
Passive voice exercise

September 14
Randy
Aime
Ciuin

September 21
Uriah
Open slots

September 28
Open slots

September 35
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Aug 31,2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

August 31st, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The Hugo Awards for science fiction were recently announced.

Victories

Aime has the cover for her Time Traveler Blues short story.

Ciuin has Petty Theft done with new scenes and twists.

Shannon fixed his short story, now done at 5,000 words.

Education

Picking a good title for your book can be difficult.  Of course, if you get a major publisher they will probably dictate the title.  This article lists several well-known books with the authors’ working titles for comparison, and offers lots of good advice.

If you are picking a title yourself, you need to consider many factors.  The title should fit the genre, and whether it does can be a matter of opinion.  Short is good –two to four word titles usually work best.  Memorable is great.  I think the title should appear naturally somewhere in the prose , and the reader should understand a connection to the title after reading the book.

You can’t use a rip-off of something popular like Harry Potter’s New Adventure.  The first link above discusses that issue.  However, titles are generally not protected by copyright, so It can be a title that has been used before, and some titles appear on many books.  Scott Berkum offers many thoughts on picking titles.  Here’s more advice.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. ~William Shakespeare

We don’t have to think up a title till we get the doggone book written.
~Carl Sandburg

Upcoming Schedule

August 31
Dylan
Ciuin
Aime

September 7
Nick
Aime (?)
Open slot

September 14
Randy
Open slots

September 21
Open slots

September 28
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

 

The Noble Pen for Aug 24, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

August 24th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Real book stores continue to succeed despite ebooks.

Victories

Randy was interviewed by a Gazette person, and hopes this will lead to a published review of his book.

Aime is revising Scourge using all our collected critiques.

Education

A run-on is two independent clauses put together without proper joining means.  The clauses could be two sentences.  A run-on is usually bad form.  A comma spliced run-on is an inadequate attempt to separate them.
Run-on:  It was seven hundred miles to the event we arranged to fly.
Comma splice: It was seven hundred miles to the event, we arranged to fly.

Using two sentences cleans it up, but may make the writing choppy.
It was seven hundred miles to the event.  We arranged to fly.

A semicolon or colon is adequate punctuation if there is a close relationship such as cause and effect, but semicolons and colons are discouraged in fiction.
It was seven hundred miles to the event; we arranged to fly.

A coordinating conjunction can be used:
It was seven hundred miles to the event, so we arranged to fly.

One clause can be made subordinate, as:
Because it was seven hundred miles to the event, we arranged to fly.

Upcoming Schedule

August 24
Uriah
Ciuin
Exercise

August 31
Dakota
Ciuin (?)
Aime

September 7
Nick
Open slots

September 14
Open slots

September 21
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill