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Ask Esther

Ask Esther: When is a Manuscript Ready for Critique?

Posted on Tue, May 3 2016 9:00 am by Esther Porter

At what point is a manuscript ready for critique? What are the benefits and drawbacks from receiving a manuscript critique at different stages?

 

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Ask Esther: Balancing Plot and Character Dialogue

Posted on Mon, May 2 2016 9:00 am by Esther Porter

I'm working on my first YA novel. I find I have lots of "important" conversations between characters, but not a lot of plot. How do I make things happen? Keep the reader wanting to turn the page?

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Ask Esther: Writing Characters Readers Care About

Posted on Tue, Nov 24 2015 9:00 am by Esther Porter

As a fiction writer, how do I develop the kind of emotional investment/empathy for my characters that will make them come across as realistic and cause readers to feel strongly about them?

Every person in this world is both complex and simple. Give your characters a complex system of emotions and characteristics—it’s their motivations that are generally simple. Most readers can relate to the basic human motivations of love/safety/joy/sex/survival, etc., but how we navigate the world, with these motivations determining our actions, is where stories come from. Place your clues carefully, so the reader feels she has discovered depth on her own—as if the character were a close friend who only she understands.

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Ask Esther: Staying True to Your Vision While Considering Audience

Posted on Mon, Aug 3 2015 9:00 am by Esther Porter

At what point in the writing process should you start to consider audience? I want to take into account who I'm writing for, while also staying true to my vision.

I would begin by asking whether your vision and your intended audience are mostly aligned or mostly disparate. It certainly depends on the writing project, and some writing projects require you to hang your vision in the closet for a time. And, to a point, that’s okay. In an ideal world, we would have countless eager readers and we would maintain a constant loyalty to our selves and our crystal-clear vision. We would write our truest sentences, then let the right audience stumble upon our work. But our world is frequently not ideal. We do need to write for audiences who ask for something other than the novels we’ve been wringing from our souls for a decade.

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Ask Esther: Editing as You Go vs. Editing at the End and Critiquing Other Writers' Work

Posted on Wed, Jun 10 2015 9:00 am by Esther Porter

Edit as you go, or edit at the end? Is either practice better for the writing process? What are the benefits of each?

I struggle with this question too. I’ve been working on the same novel for over six years, and I’m not sure I’ll ever finish. There’s no question that I’m more of an editor than a writer. I’m such an editor that I’ll interrupt my generative state of mind, which is elusive, just to circle back and polish. Then I polish again and polish some more until it practically disappears. I think I do this because I’m more confident in my ability to edit, and I feel vulnerable in my writer state of mind.

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Ask Esther: Writing a Character-Driven Story and Developing a Strong Narrative Arc

Posted on Wed, Feb 11 2015 9:00 am by Esther Porter

So many editors and agents say they are looking for character-driven stories. What does this mean and how do I make sure mine is that?

A character-driven story is one that focuses more on the identities of your characters—their flaws, their quirks, what makes them unique or universal. The movement of the story often comes from the internal forces or the transformation of the characters, rather than the external forces influencing them. If you’re wondering whether you have a character-driven or plot-driven story, ask yourself whether it’s your main character who directs the course of the story, or the plot that directs the life of the character. We often set these concepts in opposition to each other, but they often work in tandem.

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Ask Esther: Weaving in Back Story and Staying Disciplined as a Writer

Posted on Wed, Nov 12 2014 9:00 am by Esther Porter

Editor's NoteOne of the new features in our class and event publications is the Ask Esther column. The column features Esther Porter answering questions from writers about craft and process. Have a question for Esther? Send it our way at submit@loft.org.

How can I successfully weave a character’s back story through my novel? I don’t want to include too much of their history too soon and kill the story’s momentum.

A well-rounded character, just like any real person, will grow in complexity over time. Within the finite structure of a fictional story, it’s a writer’s job to guide the reader through this complexity, showing only the relevant details.

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Ask Esther: Grammar's Role in Dialogue and Finding a Critique Partner

Posted on Mon, Aug 4 2014 9:00 am by Esther Porter

Editor's NoteOne of the new features in our class and event publications is the Ask Esther column. The column features Esther Porter answering questions from writers about craft and process. Have a question for Esther? Send it our way at submit@loft.org.

Do grammatical rules apply when writing dialogue? Are accents and slang fair game?

This is a fantastic question. The grammar you use in your dialogue should match the grammar the character would use while speaking. You can use grammatical style as a tool for character development.

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Ask Esther: Fictionalizing Details in Nonfiction and Making it as a Freelance Writer

Posted on Fri, Jul 4 2014 9:00 am by Esther Porter

Editor's NoteOne of the new features in our class and event publications is the Ask Esther column. The column features Esther Porter answering questions from writers about craft and process. Have a question for Esther for the next catalog? Send it our way at submit@loft.org.

Fiction writers sometimes incorporate or are inspired by autobiographical details. Can I ever fictionalize elements or moments in my nonfiction writing?

First and foremost, if you are fictionalizing, your reader needs to know it. To put it simply, if you say it’s nonfiction when it’s fiction, you are lying to your reader. So, no, I would not recommend fictionalizing details in your nonfiction writing … except in certain circumstances.

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Ask Esther: Writing a Great Query Letter and Handling Disagreements with an Editor

Posted on Wed, Nov 20 2013 9:00 am by Esther Porter

Editor's Note: One of the new features in our class and event publications is the Ask Esther column. The column features Esther Porter answering questions from writers about craft and process. Have a question for Esther for the next catalog? Send it our way at submit@loft.org by Februrary 1.

1. How do I make the best query or pitch to an editor?

Most editors are inundated with queries, so take this first opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest. The type of query letter you write depends on the kind of editor you’re approaching. Are you looking for an independent editor to improve your work before you shop it around for publication? Or are you querying an editor at a publishing house or literary magazine? You’ll work with these types of editors differently, so you’ll want to tailor your letter accordingly.

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