Author Archive: Stanley

What is More Important: Character or Plot?

A few months ago on the website for Alliance of Independent Authors, I read Rachel McCollin’s article Plot vs Character: Which Comes First?

She stated that a story needs both plot and character to succeed. I agree that stories need these equally. I’ve read many authors who focused on plot or character, but not both. To me, their stories seemed to lack a connection. They were easy to read and easy to forget.

A plot where the characters have no influence in the story becomes a series of chase and fight scenes until no one is left to fight or chase. Likewise, characters without a plot wander around facing continuous attacks on their emotions without resolution.

There are plenty of readers who want to read about action or feelings, but not both. However, the most memorable stories I’ve read had a story where plot and character worked closely together.

Ms. McCollin explained that many writers do not start off with a plot or characters. They start with a theme. Next comes the characters to stretch out the theme that develops into a plot. This is one path a writer can take.

Sometimes a writer may start off with characters with the plot arriving to give them purpose. If a plot develops first, the action brings the characters to life. In either case, a writer usually arrives at a point, a triple fork in the road, where they can focus on plot, character, or both.

It is here that a writer should decide who their readers will be. A story that focuses on plot or character can find readers. However, when plot and character are treated equally in a story the result can become a strong, memorable one that will find even more readers.

Sending Newsletters

There are two ways for a nonprofit to send out their newsletter: by email or through the mail. (There is also social media, yet it is not effective.)

Most people use email because it is easier and cheaper. Also, the recipients can more easily forward the newsletter to other people making a wider distribution possible. However, I think the opposite happens.

Most people are flooded with emails and do not delete or manage their inbox. The newsletter email can soon disappear to the bottom of the screen and be forgotten. Even if opened, the email is scanned with little retention of the contents and few emails are forwarded.

By mail, the newsletter is time consuming and costly. Yet, I think there is a greater chance for someone to read and distribute it. A printed newsletter can be left on a table or counter, handed to other people, and kept for future reference.

The other advantage of printed newsletters is they can run four pages with pictures. An email should be no more than one page and imbedded in the email with no attachments or pictures that can easily distort the email format.

The purpose of a newsletter is to communicate what is happening in the nonprofit. Once written, it should be distributed as wide as possible and presented in a way to encourage people to read it. The more people reading the newsletter, the more people who would support the mission.

Of the three newsletters I’m involved in, two are distributed by email and one by print. I have not talked to many readers for any of the newsletters, but I have talked to enough people and found that more people read the printed version than the electronic version.

How to Get Rid of Darlings

In 1914, Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first person to write, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

It is hard for writers to get rid of something they wrote and love. It’s hard for me. The words stand out as if singing, “Don’t cut me! I can be loved.” To erase them is a death sentence to something beautifully written.

Many writers cannot pull out the eraser or hit the delete key. They end up with prose that is hard to read and understand. I know because I used to find it hard to do the cutting and my writing suffered.

Nowadays when editing and I hesitate on a word or series of words, I know there is something wrong. But, I like those words, I tell myself. Yet, when I focus on what they mean to the story I find that the words cause the reader, like myself, to stop and ask, “What is this?” The words throw the reader off and break the momentum or tempo of the story.

I learned to get rid of my pet words by saving them in a separate file for “future use.” Even though I have rarely used them in a future story, it makes me feel better when I take them out of a story for safekeeping. My cute, favorite words still exist somewhere.

Overtime, I do this saving less and less. I now delete the cute words I know do not belong and move on with the story. Although, from time to time I still find myself saving some favorite words in a file. It is always possible I could use them in some future story.

How to Write a Newsletter

Nowadays, everyone publishes newsletters. I’m involved with publishing three of them. They can be a good source of communication between the nonprofit, the community they serve, and their donors.

The newsletter helps a nonprofit stay connected with others by informing people about current operations and happenings in the nonprofit. Subject areas can include:

● Recent successes – the nonprofit is headed in a positive direction
● Schedule of upcoming events – the future is planned
● Introduction of new people, but not departures which make people ask: why did they leave?
● A list of non-monetary needs, such as more volunteers – there is always a need and it is not only about money

A nonprofit should address their specific audience by being positive and concise. Of course, this sounds easier than it is, but it is possible.

Concise writing comes from practice and reading. It is about using the fewest words to clearly state something. One thing that can help is limiting the subject areas to the most important. As an example, does a recipe have something to do with the nonprofit?

A newsletter needs to be readable. This means sufficient margins, a large enough font, and white space (where no words exist). There should be variety in the content such as pictures and subtle colors. The newsletter needs to be eye appealing along with providing information. People should want to read the newsletter.

This may sound like a lot to do, yet writing a newsletter is easier by putting in the most important thing since the last newsletter. As an example, if there were three events, pick the one that helped the most. Leave some information for the next newsletter.

Before publishing, always have others read the newsletter to catch mistakes. Most importantly, whether the newsletter is published monthly or quarterly, be consistent and always publish on time.