Category Archives: Newsletters

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

The Noble Pen for Apr 19, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 19th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

It’s always been known that bad news travels more quickly than good news.  Now social scientists are studying how fake news propagates, relative to other things.

Victories

Ciuin added 8,000 words to Chessmaster, putting it up to 72,000.

Education

If you know where to start and end, how do you get the reader to stay with you through the journey?  Generally, you need to maintain conflict and tension, with complications and/or more problems for the protagonist to get through.  But it should all tie together – don’t give the characters a lot of distractions that have nothing to do with the climax and resolution.

Camy Tang writes about keeping up interest through the “The Sagging Middle” Part 1 and Part 2, based on Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.

This article offers a bunch of ideas to help keep that middle interesting.  Here are more suggestions.

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. ~Ernest Hemingway

Focus on the journey, not the destination.  Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.  ~Greg Anderson

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 19
Ciuin (double)
Randy

Apr 26
Jeremiah
Uriah
Randy?

May 3
Nick
Logan (double: complete short story)

May 10
Open slots

May 17
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Apr 12, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 12th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The Science Fiction News edition for 2018 Spring (Northern hemisphere) is available.

Victories

Nick edited on his SSS novel.

Ciuin finished an editing job.  She got an order for Petty Theft.

Education

You don’t dare have an important character who isn’t interesting.  There are a lot of ways to make an uninteresting, unlikable character.  It’s trickier with your protagonist than the antagonists.   Here are some negative characteristics that characters may have.

Unlikable characters can be interesting.  They typically come with built-in conflicts, and conflict is the meat of storytelling.  Here is a discussion of some interesting but unlikable characters from published fiction.

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 12
Uriah
Randy
Ciuin

Apr 19
Ciuin
Aime
Open slot

Apr 26
Randy
Jeremiah
Open slot

May 3
Nick
Open slots

May 10
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Apr 5, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 5th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The young adult sf book A Wrinkle in Time is now a movie getting mixed reviews.   Here is a very somewhat favorable and detailed review.  Some like it, saying the wait for this classic to be a movie has been too long, but others say the special effects were overdone and they tried so hard to provide an ethnic mix that the effort is obvious.

This is one of the first sf books I ever read, and at the time I really didn’t like it.  Maybe I should read it again.

Victories

Randy’s book has eight reviews on Amazon, with a good average score.

Education

If you as a writer are taking your reader back to historical times, you don’t need a sci-fi machine, but you do need a heavy dose of research to avoid common problems.  There are tools to fight the problems. (besides Google).

The first problem is making the earlier times seem right to readers who may not have a lot of detailed knowledge.  You need references that they will recognize, that are NOW associated with the era, not necessarily what was hot at the time.  Mention of horseless carriages will take most people back to the early 20th century.  Fallout shelters may bring the 1950’s to mind to older people, but younger ones may not recognize them. Black and white TV might work better for them because they have at least heard of it.  Party line phones (that’s several houses on the same wired phone line) may be a foreign concept.   Music that was popular in the era may help, but there are people who haven’t heard of the Beatles, much less Buddy Holly or Stan Kenton.

The second problem is avoiding anachronisms.  The people who DO know the historical period may burn your book (and your ratings) if you have a detective in 1982 Google an address on his smart phone.  Not only didn’t he have a cell phone, he is unlikely to have a home computer, and there was no Google.  Did they use forks at dinner in 1200 AD?  Research it.   Does the heroine say “okay” in your Regency romance?  Could the Civil War soldier zip his coat?  Not by decades.

Names should be chosen from those in common use at the time.  A World War II widow named Brittney or Aimee just wouldn’t be right, any more than a 2015 graduate named Agnes, Henry, Mabel,  Mildred, or Archibald.

And the characters’ language must avoid more recent jargon, slang, and common expressions.  As this article says, a reference to a person who did not fit into 1850 society would not be “What planet is he from?” A medieval peasant would not say an easy job was a piece of cake.

Characters’ attitudes and world view (there’s a modern term) may be even harder to deal with than their words, particularly when dealing with the interaction of different social classes.  And historical accuracy may not be politically acceptable now when dealing with treatment of women and minorities.  Huck Finn’s language is getting him banned even though it reflected the era.

Jude Knight has some thoughts on the problems, limits, and some very nice anachronistic pictures.  KJ Charles considers both what doesn’t fit and what may be missing.

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 5
Aime – short educational
Nick
Randy
Ciuin

Apr 12
Uriah
Aime
Stacie S.

Apr 19
Open slots

Apr 26
Randy
Jeremiah
Open slot

May 3
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 29, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 29th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Kate Wilhelm, a writer of mysteries, suspense, science fiction, and p*ems, died at age 89.  She raised six children and published sixty books.  Wikipedia provides a list of works.

Victories

Aime and Randy got royalty checks.  Combined, they would buy a small meal.

Ciuin sold a book.  She has been hired to edit a book.

Education

A surprising number of stories fit well into the structure of The Hero’s Journey (wikipedia-monomyth) and they aren’t all epic fantasies.   Vladimir Propp was one of the pioneers of the idea as applied to folk tales.  Elizabeth Sims discusses the structure and how a Sherlock Holmes story fits it.  Here’s another comparison using Star Wars and The Matrix.

Upcoming Schedule

March 29
Aime – short educational
Jeremiah
Randy
Stacie S.

Apr 5
Nick
Randy
Ciuin

Apr 12
Uriah
Aime
Stacie S.

Apr 19
Open slots

Apr 26
Randy
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 22, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 22nd, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

_To Kill a Mockingbird_ continues to be in the news, as Harper Lee’s estate sues over too many changes in a Broadway script.

Victories

Ciuin sold some Petty Theft books.

Education

It ain’t over until it’s over. ~Yogi Berra.  Make sure your story has a good ending, so the reader won’t decide it was over before reading to the end.

It is best if the protagonist is deeply involved in the resolution, as the catalyst for the resolution, and/or by being changed by the events.  It is not good for them to just watch the resolution or to be rescued; it is better if they are the rescuer but must overcome some personal obstacles to perform the rescue.

Try to have some plot twists to keep the plot unpredictable (and here). Ideally the reader will not expect the ending , but will find it to be completely natural when looking back at the events leading up to it.

Yet, the elements of the climax and ending should have been foreshadowed  without giving away the ending, so the reader does not feel cheated and cry “Deus ex Machina!”

How can you balance these opposites? Use a moderate amount of misdirection. Think like the stage magician, who misdirects you by keeping you focused on one hand while the other does the tricky work.  Give the reader vital information but distract them by immediately going into the battle, chase, or emotional confrontation. Give the important event or fact an obvious, unimportant reason to be there. Use details that just seem like scene-setting but turn out to be critical. Or let something obviously important turn out to have a different meaning than assumed. Don’t lie to the reader, or place too much emphasis on the red herring, or they will feel cheated.

Don’t just have it wrap up like a column of falling dominoes.  Make the reader feel they need to know the outcome, but can’t predict it.  Make the ending a dash to the finish line, perhaps a zig-zag one, but no more complicated than necessary.  Emphasize conflict, not description, back story, or philosophizing, in the later chapters.  Try not to need a lot of wrap-up after the climax.

Larry Brooks talks about structuring the story for a killer ending.  Vicki Hinze discusses how to wrap it up.  Here’s Laura Miller’s take on what makes a great ending.

It’s up to you, should it have a happy ending? Whether or not it is a happy one, it should be a satisfying ending.

Nobody reads a (novel) to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it’s a let down, they won’t buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.. The last page sells your next book. ~ Mickey Spillane

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. ~Orson Welles

Upcoming Schedule

March 22
Randy
Ciuin
Aime

March 29
Aime – short educational
Jeremiah
Randy
Open slot

Apr 5
Nick
Randy
Open slot

Apr 12
Open slots

Apr 19
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 15, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 15th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Dolly Parton talks about her nonprofit organization that sends books to children- now up to 100 million books.  (article)  (interview)

Victories

Randy found a Fisk coffin in a museum that he will photograph for his book.

The Farmers’ Market book selling group got a rejection from their application.  They tried.

Education

Riley recently gave us a good presentation on character arcs, one of many useful ways to analyze a story.  Here’s some more links on characters.

Character development early in a story in an important tool to get readers hooked.  Tom Pawlik’s article lists nine aspects of character development.  How the character talks and thinks, their background, appearance, goals, and defects all shape them and affect how the reader relates to them and cares about them.  Here are more tips.  This information should be shown gradually and not as a summary that holds up the action.

The character will probably show change during the narrative, which is called the character arc.   Change for the better or for the worse usually makes them more interesting.  A “flat arc” can sometimes be interesting, especially if they interact with other characters having more complex arcs.

There are many ways a character can change through the events of the plot.   They may change in personality or motivation.   Nancy Kress discusses character change.   Jeff Gerke explains the development of a character.   Lillie Ammann talks about creating, motivating, and changing a character in an 8-part series:  Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4 Part 5     Part 6     Part 7     Part 8.

Upcoming Schedule

March 15
Short educational: Randy
Ciuin
Aime
Stacie S.

March 22
Randy
Ciuin
Open slot

March 29
Jeremiah
Open slots

Apr 5
Nick
Randy
Open slot

Apr 12
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 8, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 8th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

You’ve read similar themes in Science Fiction.  Now an anthropologist worries that the data being accumulated on everyone, along with the advances in biology, will lead to serious problems in society’s future.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to write the blockbuster novel that will illustrate this and get it made into a movie so it reaches the masses.

Victories

Jeremiah figured out how to turn a chapter into a full story.

Randy has rescheduled a book signing

Ciuin talked with Henry Winkler, who has been an inspiration to her for a long time, and they traded books.

Education

All writers can benefit from good beta readers.  An interesting essay discusses three types of beta readers and when you want each.  You can see the variety in our own critique group.  Which are you, Generalist, Shredder, or SpaGster, or a combination?

Here’s another take on what makes a good beta reader.  And yet another.

Upcoming Schedule

March 8
Randy
Stacie S.
Jeremiah

March 15
Short educational: Randy
Ciuin
Aime
Open slot

March 22
Randy
Open slots

March 29
Jeremiah
Open slots

Apr 5
Nick
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 1, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Mar 1st, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Trump has proposed a budget that severely cuts funding for public arts and culture, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  The latter is a possible target for elimination.

Victories

Randy got fan mail.

Dakota found time (from being grandma of a teething baby) to write a chapter.

Education

Can you use a real person in your fiction?  Can you base a fictional story on a real person who is not named but could perhaps be identified?

Generally one should err on the side of caution to avoid possible claims of defamation or invasion of privacy by the person or their descendants.  The more famous the person and the greater the span of time after their life, the more leeway you will have.

If the person’s identity and details are not as important as their membership in a group, it is easy to make up a character combining what you know about that person and others in the group.

This excellent article says a finding of libel is rare but you need to exercise some caution.  Even winning a lawsuit is still expensive.  They recommend either keeping true to the proven facts, especially for any negative aspect of the character, or else disguising the character so they are hard to associate with the real person.  The trouble is in the middle ground.

Here’s one take on it and another view.  Here’s a discussion of libel law as it applies to fiction.  Real Person Fiction, alias fan fiction, is discussed on Wikipedia.

Upcoming Schedule

March 1
Riley 10-minute educational
Nick
Jeremiah
Riley

March 8
Randy
Stacie S.
Jeremiah

March 15
Open slots

March 22
Open slots

March 29
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 22, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 22nd, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News/Editorial

Writing has the power to change minds.  But a new factor has entered.  Computational Propaganda is the use of massive collections of personal data (What did you click on today? What organizations do you get email from?) and vast computational power to deliver just the right message (maybe true, biased, or false) to each person to sway their opinion.

An essayist says “no matter what your political inclinations may be, if you value a healthy functioning democracy, then something needs to be done to get ahead of computational propaganda’s curve.”

We all need to take time to seek out a variety of opinions and sort through them to see what makes sense, and not just read what F*cebook offers us or the click-bait from other services.

Victories

Aime’s editorial was published in the Gazette.

Ciuin started editing a pastor’s book.  She made progress on Chessmaster.

Stacie S. is sending Brian Sanderson a thank you (and copy of her book) for his educational series.

Randy was asked to do a signing at a Decorah bookstore.

Education

Devlin Blake offers a list of ways to make your story boring.  If you aren’t writing a bedtime story to help readers fall asleep, then you need to make sure you aren’t doing those things.  Another article is aimed at bloggers, but can be applied to most writing.

Do your characters have an easy time of it?  That’s not very interesting to readers, who usually expect to see tension and conflict before the resolution.  Brian Klems suggests ways to Push Your Characters to Their Limits.  Here are some tools to spice up the tension with conflict.

If you’ve ever found yourself pushed to the limits of your tolerance… you find yourself doing some things that, from the outside, can be seen as quite insane. ~Brandon Lee

February 22
Randy
Ciuin
Aime

March 1
Riley 10-minute educational
Nick
Jeremiah
Riley

March 8
Randy
Stacie S.
Open slot

March 15
Open slots

March 22
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 15, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 15th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The National Book Awards took a small step to becoming more international with the addition of a prize for books translated into English.

Victories

Aime submitted a column to the newspaper.

Education

How long should a story be?  How long is a piece of string? They should be long enough to do the job without a lot of excess.  Always review your story to see if it contains padding that does not move the story along.  However, a long manuscript may not be publishable by traditional publishers regardless of whether it is the right length for the story it tells.  If your writing is tight and still too long, you may have to modify the events of the story to fit a publishable range.

The Nebula Awards define lengths for short story, novelette, novella, and novel.  Other peoples’ definitions vary.  Other formats include drabble, usually defined as a story of around (sometimes exactly) 100 words, and flash fiction, which is variously defined as less than 300 or 1000 words.

The average book sold through Amazon in 2014 had 64,500 words.  Chuck Sambuchino offers a detailed guide that recommends 80-100 k words for most novels and memoirs, with sci-fi running slightly longer.  Westerns and books for younger readers tend to be shorter.  Here’s another guide , and a third, that mostly agree, and define lengths for other formats.  Wikipedia goes into the details of counting words, which you can digest for details after getting your story into the right length range for your market.  Whatever MS Word reports tends to be used nowadays unless someone has specific counting software.

One always tends to overpraise a long book, [just] because one has got through it. ~E. M. Forster

You know what writers say about their long books: If I had another year, the book would be half as long. ~David Remnick

Upcoming Schedule

February 15
10-minute educational – Stacie S.
Aime
Stacie S (submission carried over)
Ciuin

February 22
Randy
Ciuin
Stacie S.

March 1
Riley 10-minute educational
Nick
Jeremiah
Open slot

March 8
Randy
Open slots

March 15
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill