Director’s Corner: Staying Motivated and Productive

jeanneJeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Have you written today?  Written fiction–not emails for work or Facebook status updates or blog posts.  Have you written this week?  Have you written this month? Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Staying Motivated and Productive”

Interview: Sheila Williams

Sheila WilliamsSheila Williams will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is the two-time Hugo-Award-winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. She started at Asimov’s in June  1982 and served as the executive editor of Analog from 1998 until 2004. She is also the co-founder of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing  (formerly the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing). In addition, she coordinates the websites for Asimov’s(www.asimovs.com).

Sheila is the editor or co-editor of twenty-five anthologies. The most recent are Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine’s 30th Anniversary Anthology (Tachyon Publications, 2007), which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was on the 2007 Locus Recommended Reading list, and the 2010 Enter A Future: Fantastic Tales from Asimov’s Science Fiction, which is exclusively available for Amazon’s Kindle.

Sheila received her bachelor’s degree from Elmira College in Elmira, New York, and her master’s from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. During her junior year she studied at the London School of Economics. She lives in New York City with her husband, David Bruce, and her two daughters.


What is the most common mistake that writers make in their manuscript submissions to you? Most editors develop pet peeves as they encounter manuscripts that continually violate submission guidelines or make some other irritating mistake. Which one bothers you the most? Continue reading “Interview: Sheila Williams”

Director’s Corner: Gaining Distance to Revise

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


You don’t care about my protagonist? You don’t find my plot to be a page-turning masterwork of suspense? You think my sentences are awkward and my point of view inconsistent? Writers are often quite surprised by the feedback they receive on manuscripts. Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Gaining Distance to Revise”

Director’s Corner: Participial Phrases

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Beginning a sentence with a participial phrase is usually jarring and awkward. If you don’t really know what a participial phrase is, you can often spot one by looking for an -ing verb. You won’t find -ing verbs only in participial phrases, but that will be a warning sign, and then you can investigate further. Here’s an example: Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Participial Phrases”

Director’s Corner: Ending Scenes with Power

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Ending Scenes with Power

In my experience, writers agonize quite a bit about how to end their stories or novels. This is good, because the end is critical in creating the lasting impression you want the reader to experience. But few writers spend much attention on the ends of scenes or chapters, or know how to create a strong end to a scene. Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Ending Scenes with Power”

Director’s Corner: Active Versus Reactive Characters

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Active Versus Reactive Characters

One problem many developing writers have is that readers don’t like their main characters and don’t care what happens to them. If you can get readers to become emotionally invested in your protagonist, then they’ll follow you almost anywhere.

Readers tend to like characters who are struggling to achieve a goal. This simple principle can be invaluable in creating sympathetic protagonists. Characters working toward a goal are active characters. Characters who aren’t working toward a goal are reactive. Reactive characters are much weaker than active characters, and we tend not to like them. Unfortunately, many writers end up unknowingly creating reactive protagonists.

Here’s a scene with one active character and one reactive character:

      Joe: “What do you want to do tonight?”

 

      Jane: “I don’t know.”

 

      Joe: “Let’s go see

Lord of the Rings

      .”

 

      Jane: “I already saw it.”

 

      Joe: “Well, let’s go bowling then.”

 

      Jane: “I hate bowling.”

 

      Joe: “We could rent a video and stay home.”

 

    Jane: “We did that last night.”

Joe is the active character, Jane reactive. Joe is working toward a goal (finding something pleasant for them to do together). Jane is just reacting to what Joe says, and is seemingly not interested in achieving that goal or any other. We relate to Joe, because at least he’s trying. We dislike Jane, because she’s not trying.

Some people certainly are reactive, and it’s fine to have reactive characters in your story. Just be aware that’s what you’re doing, and don’t expect your readers to like those characters.

Director’s Corner: Looking/Eye Words

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Looking/Eye Words

Many authors overuse words involving looking and eyes. They describe their characters looking, glancing, gazing, staring, studying, seeing, surveying, scanning, peeking, leering, ogling, noticing, watching, blinking, glaring, and just generally eyeballing everything. Characters’ eyes flash, burn, linger, darken or brighten, and even change color. Characters’ eyes drop to the floor (ouch!); they roam around the room (eeek!). Or characters may raise the ever-popular eyebrow.

At Bantam Doubleday Dell, I once edited a book in which the author described characters looking in almost every paragraph. The author gave his male character a line of dialogue, then said, “He looked at her.” Then the female character said a line of dialogue, and “her eyes narrowed on him.” Then the male character spoke, and “he looked away.” The female character said nothing, only “stared at him.” This went on for 600 pages.

While that is an extreme example, overuse of looking/eye words is a problem for many writers today. Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Looking/Eye Words”