Monday, December 21, 2009

Sounds: Aid or Distraction?

I'm kind of weird, in case you haven't guessed. Okay, not kind of. A lot weird. For instance, I don't read the way normal people read. Most people can grab a book and sit down in a library or curl up on the couch in a quiet house with some tea in hand and read away.

Not me.

I've always needed some kind of noise to read: people talking, the TV on, music in the background. For some strange reason, needing to block out noise helps me focus and I can then absorb the information. The more boring and complex the book, article or essay, the more chaos I need to actually HEAR the words.

In college whenever I had to read something dry and dull like Economics or Government, I'd show up early to a basketball game and read chapters during the warm-up. That worked perfectly. I could get my homework in and then have fun by watching basketball.

But this little issue of mine made it impossible for me to take reading comprehension tests. The actual testing method contradicts my strange process of absorption and comprehension.

First, you must read boring material—and several blocks, not just one—in a fast amount of time in total silence, except for the blasted, ticking clock. Of course you can hear the clock eating away at your grades, dragging you closer and closer to an F or a dunce cap with each deafening second. Then you must answer questions to prove you can read those boring tidbits, but you can't really READ said paragraphs because that's NOT how you read. Awesome!

In Third Grade, they even stuck me in Special Ed because they were concerned about my "inability to comprehend", but being 8, I couldn't explain that the test just didn't work for me. If I could have had a walkman and no dripping hourglass, I would have aced the test every time. I've never had a problem comprehending anything, aside from maybe medical jargon or legalese. Noise is just a necessity for me and not just with reading.

Now, I require some kind of background noise while penning a novel to keep straight and finish off my various threads. Being a just-wing-it girl rather than an outliner, music helps me to stay focused and on track. And often times, music feeds my fire and drive as well.

Here are a few of the songs that I found inspiration in while penning Sapphire Reign—which I'm close to wrapping up.

Field of Innocence by Evanescence. This completely encompasses my storyline and tone. If I can acquire the rights for a reasonable cost, I want to use this song for my long trailer.

When the Children Cry by White Lion.

Another Brick in the Wall (Here's part 2) by Pink Floyd.

Stop Crying Your Heart Out by Oasis

So, when you're writing do you prefer the silence of a snowy day or some kind of noise like music, TV or people talking? And do you find inspiration in music? Just wondering.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Are You Striving to Become a Champion?

I've always longed to be the featured champion on a box of Wheaties. Yeah, yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh, but when I was a small kid, I possessed an incredible degree of power and strength. I beat every kid in my class in callisthenic, strength and endurance tests in nearly every event, especially those involving running and jumping. And learning dance only provided me with greater agility and breakaway speed—handy when you're playing Wide Receiver BTW. [Yes, of course! Tomboy here.] In 1984, I even beat Gold Medalist, Evelyn Ashford’s time by a hair in a 100-meter dash with 10.63 versus her Gold Medal/World Record time of 10.76.

But all that greatness and potential is lost. No Wheaties box for me. Other than an occasional moment of playtime, I’m not really as sporty as I once was. I certainly can't Jazzercize my way into the champion-seeking hearts at General Mills. And hills STILL own me in my running, sometimes wiping me out more than another two more miles would. Even if I breeze up those monsters with ease, running won't get me there. I'm slower than a slug now, not even close to the blazing flash of lightning I once was. I don't know what happened.

No...I do know.

I never really strove to develop and hone my skills, to increase my strength, to improve. Because it all came naturally, I didn't feel the need to practice or pressure to get better. I beat everyone who ever dared to race me, boy or girl. I WAS a winner...a champion, owning a slightly better time than a World Record holder and Olympic Gold Medalist "Eeee-ven"...sans Snagglepuss from Laff-A-Lympics. "Heavens to Murgatroyd!"
To become a champion, and remain one—in whatever your passion may be—, you need to bring your A-Game every time, carrying the certainty that you can attain your dream and also have it snatched away at any moment by someone else. If you don’t act as though you have heat on your heels, it can all be lost. Writers should approach their passion for words with the same intensity athletes do their games, races, matches, meets and competitions. So, what can you do to be Wheaties-worthy?

LEARN THE RULES: As rules exist in sports, there are many in writing beyond grammar and we hear them plenty: show don't tell, no head-hopping, no passive voice, no abundance of adverbs or adjectives, no be-verbs, no huge blocks of internalization, no breaking the fourth wall, no stopping action for long blocks of description…

Once you understand what the rules are and why they're important, you can learn to break them according to your story's needs. If you know what you are doing and why, then you can demonstrate this deliberateness.

Like with passive voice, let’s say you’re in First Person and your character IS passive or sees everything as a martyr or victim or is unreliable, then a sense of detachment and distance might be appropriate. Or if you understand that hanging three adjectives on every noun creates drag over pretty language, you can then choose to use this technique when you do want to slow things down, maybe increase suspense, like describing a room where everything looks creepy to the observer.

Familiarize yourself with the rules, particularly those regarding narratives and structure. If you don't have a firm grasp of narratives, how will you be able to spot head-hopping when it creeps into your story or know if your work would present better in Omniscience? You need to know the difference.
No matter what your story calls for, you can then demonstrate you're a true player in the game and not just flying by the seat of your pants, doing whatever you want.

PRACTICE, TRAIN & STRETCH: To become excellent, you need to keep working. Push yourself in uncomfortable directions and attempt things you never thought you would. I tried a celebrity vampire story when I didn't think I could do it, and the story came out great. It didn't win the contest I entered, but I'm so glad I got it done. Choose a difficult task or goal for your character or a crazy outcome and wrestle your way there. Practice and try something new and different like a villanelle or flash fiction. The more you stretch, the better you will become.

GET IN THE GAME: Once you have the playbook in hand, get in the game, what are you waiting for!? You can comb over it again and again, but you’re never gonna know your story’s worth or what you’re capable of if you don’t put yourself out there. Find some critters, adopt a thicker skin and let your baby be ripped to shreds. I know exposure is scary and that it's painful because writing is so soul-baring, but you need to get in the game and risk some injury if you want to become a champion.

When you’re aware of your weaknesses, you can adapt your methods, rid your bad habits and make your work indubitably stronger. Even becoming aware of a little thing like repeat words—“huffed” for me—and fixing that will improve a work. You likely wouldn’t notice such a thing on your own. You need feedback, desperately, so get it. Once your work is polished and shiny, you’re ready to seek expert opinion and publication. Go! Get in the game.

PLAY WITH SPIRIT: In order to enjoy writing and make it as engaging as possible, you need to find your own style and voice. People can help you along, give you guidance, offer suggestions, but only you can tell the story brewing inside you and innately know the best way to tell it. You may need to work and wrestle and dig deep to find your voice, but once you do, your words will string together much more smoothly, your characters will come to life much more easily and your plot turns will surprise you. If you’re just writing to get words down or meet a contractual obligation, it will show. Don’t lose your soul’s fire. It’s normal to have down days, to get disheartened and discouraged, but stay in the game, maintain your energy and excitement, stay focused and be true to yourself.

HAVE A VISION OF SUCCESS: Where do you want to be as a writer? What do you hope to achieve? Visualize that. Don't just picture it in your mind; learn what you need to do in order to make that happen, set goals and work at getting there. There are tons of books and online resources, including agents' blogs, that give you the tools you need to write well and get attention. Seeing yourself as the champion of your dream will help you maintain a positive attitude even when all hope seems lost. Your vision of success may need to change, and that's fine; adapt as you go along.

DON’T QUIT: If your work ends up being not as wonderful or as well-received as you assumed, that’s okay. Start over, change things up or write something else. The first novel I wrote has great elements, especially the romance between the adorable characters, but it depends too much on coincidence, and taking out one thing would collapse the whole rickety thing. It's in a purple folder somewhere and that's likely the only binding it will ever be in. If you write something that isn’t suitable for mass consumption, that’s okay. Try again. Very few people are fabulous on their first go. It can take several efforts before you have a winner. Stay tenacious. Even if you don’t get validation in the publishing world or never sell one self-published book beyond your family members and friends, don’t stifle your creative breath, don’t quiet those characters crying out for birth, don’t put down the pen. Keep doing your best for YOU.

Will I ever be on Wheaties everywhere? Doubt it. Not unless General Mills considers plume athleticism worthy of their boxes. Maybe then I'll land up there for my most awesome excellence. It takes just as much, if not more, determination, wits and skill to be a master of words—words that can stir laughter, draw tears, sooth a soul, infuse hope, empower, change a life—as it does to catch a 4th-and-goal touchdown pass from the 2 to win the Super Bowl.

Don't just write; become a champion, great enough to be on Wheaties.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Can People Duplicate Themselves?

Cuz that's what I need. More copies of ME to write out all my ideas. I'm bursting with them. But that many freaks running around would disrupt balance in the world and it might actually implode. I suppose it's a good thing, that I have more ideas than I know what to do with.

Bit by inspiration, I wrote a scene for another book this morning. So now, I have the first chapters written for three books and no time to work on any of them since I'm currently trying to finish my sequel and querying agents.

I have a goal to be done with my book by the end of the year, but now I NEED to be done with it, so I can move on to editing and start one of my new novels. The other problem is this particular book is Christian, but edgy Christian, not the CBA kind. It's more the independent/small publisher kind, or even the self-publish kind, because old ladies will certainly shout non-euphemisms at me—cuz euphies are bad too—try, BLAST, says Steeple Hill—and throw tomatoes and pocket Gideons.

Not that I have a problem with Christian books. I just think I need to work on other YA/potential crossover books with my very own brand of weirdness, so I can carve out my niche in book world.

Since I can't create more MEs, I guess I'd better work faster. :)

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Need a Brain Boost?

Antioxidants are great brain food, which can help give you a boost when you’re feeling droopy and unfocused. Seriously, who can write with a case of the frazzles? Fruits and veggies that are rich in color like grapes, plums, red cabbage, pomegranates, berries, apples, citrus fruits, acai, broccoli, eggplant, kale, guava, tomatoes and sweet potatoes are known to have antioxidants, which benefit you in so many ways, including stabilizing free radicals and making your heart healthier.

Since pomegranates and blueberries are the perfect Jedi knights to bring balance to the force, what better way to get your fill than by combining all that healthy awesomeness in a delicious smoothie?

You can use any berries, but I prefer blueberries. And using frozen berries gives the smoothie a nice frothy texture. If you don’t have frozen fruit, add a few ice cubes to the mix.

Here’s what you’ll need:
  • 4 oz. Lite or regular blueberry yogurt

  • 4 oz. Pomegranate juice (real juice not a cheap coctail blend)

  • 1/2 medium banana. (I like it golden yellow and freckly, especially in a smoothie. If it’s got a hint of green, the smoothie can taste too waxy.)

  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • Honey to taste, about 1-2 tbsps
Combine ingredients in a blender or smoothie mixer, blend on medium until you reach desired consistency. Pour into a tall glass, and there you go. It's the perfect treat for NaNo too. Enjoy!

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Are You in Query Letter Hell?

Every writer who wants to be repped by an agent and published needs to master the art of query writing, getting that monster plot down to a suitable mini-synopsis that reflects both character and voice.

It sure is a pain in the booty to get that query letter right. I worked so hard to get my novel down to a few sentences, but those sentences reflected plot alone, not character and certainly not voice. So I went back to the drawing board and gave my letter a bit more personality.

There's so much conflicting advice all over the web about what a query should and should not have. And so many well-meaning writers actually make the query writing process more difficult for other writers on the brink of shopping.

Well, here it is, query letter writing, stripped down to the most important elements by Literary Agent, Jennifer Jackson. Check it out.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guest Post: Tirzah Goodwin

Back That UP!!!

Please welcome my guest Tirzah Goodwin.

Ah, you write the last sentence of the final paragraph of your 200,000-word epic American Novel and you hit save. You’re exhausted, you’re elated. You’re just a little bit smug. I’m sure you’ve hit Twitter to brag to all your writing frenemies out there in the web world.

Then, the next morning you push your computer’s little ‘Go’ button and the screen remains mysteriously black. Mmm, that doesn’t look good. You check all the cords and it’s plugged in. You hit the button again, several times. Because repeatedly hitting it always works…lol. Still, just a black screen.

Now, your heart is pounding, little droplets of sweat start to stream down the crack of your ass (the sign of real desperation).

You call all your friends, a couple of enemies, and even your sister’s idiot husband who thinks he’s good with computers. Nothing works.

Nearly hysterical by this point, you get in the car in pajamas and flip-flops and drive to the nearest computer fix-it shop. You hold your broken laptop out to the 12-year old with the name tag and blubber, “ahbubhabib broken, boghsdiguy novel”, which he understands as ‘My computer is broken, please retrieve my novel.’

Only three hundred dollars later you know your laptop is dead forever. The boney kid swilling AMP at nine in the morning manages to save a couple of files. You have the draft of six chapters, about twenty-thousand words.

You literally lie down on the sidewalk and wait to die. God is not merciful.

Eventually, the police make you get up. Authority figures rarely understand the pain of losing your writing. And it’s best to go the heck home to start all over on your novel or to throw yourself on the bed and scream. Whatever works for you.

If you’re in an apartment, I suggest you scream with your head buried in your hypo-allergenic pillow. Neighbors don’t understand creative pain either.

Next, you’ll twitter all your friends about your bad luck. Several of them have the nerve to snicker a bit at your expense.

Don’t let this be you!

How can you avoid the humiliation?

First, back up your writing in multiple places. At the very least, set up a free yahoo or g-mail account and email each chapter to yourself. This way it’s waiting in a third party email account that you can access from anywhere.

Second, put it on a flash drive. Then put your flash drive where children can’t flush it down the toilet. Don’t trust the dog around it either. My male dog did something unspeakable to my flash drive that I can’t even repeat here for fear the porn police will arrest me.

Third, put it on an old-fashion disc. There’s a reason we used those things all these years.

Fourth, sign up for a third party writing site that allows you to load your writing but not display it. I use a couple of these sites to ‘store’ my writing for emergencies.

And the last thing to remember is not to dwell on what’s lost. It’s gone. Have a good cry, a beer, or kick a stuffed teddybear but get over it. Either re-write it or write something new.

And back your writing up!

But if you forget and erase something, remember to tell everyone how great it was. After all, they can’t prove otherwise, now can they?

Good Writing!

~ Tirzah

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Forever Tweaker

Okay. So in reading agents' blogs, I started freaking out about word count again. Many genres have norms and you can't really go outside that box. Since my book will probably go upper-YA with all my teen MCs, my word count is way off, by 20,000 words at least. I did have 106,000 words, and then started paring it down, gunning for 97,000 or so.

However, when I did my final edit in the spring, I made sure things were worded a specific way to provide good rhythm and meter, to create a zingy voice and to secretly reinforce my themes with subliminal messages. And the over-pruning I did this week gave the narrative a choppy feel and stripped a lot of that out. I was almost at 101,000, only nine chapters in, but returned some needed lines or phrases to alleviate the stilted feel and to reclaim my voice. A strong voice is just as important as a solid plot, good pacing and well-developed characters. It's one of the key things agents look for in the first few pages. So I can't lose that.

Now I'm closer 102,000 again. I'm still tweaking to get my word count under 100,000 at least. Some darlings will have to be cut. I still have many more chapters to prune and maybe I can reach my hope of 97,000 words, but if I don't, I'm not going to fret. I'm just going to pass around the best story I can.

Now, my word count being out of the norm may mean an automatic rejection. But I'd rather have my work in good condition then to have a stick-figure effort that will get to go on shelves because--yippee--it fits in the typical box but is sub-par at best.

The complexity of my novel can't be streamlined into 80,000 words. It can't. My book doesn't snag or drag in spots. Everything affects the main plot and the MC's reaction to it.

Stephenie Meyer allowed Bella to repeat the same things over and over about a beautiful, sparkling vampire, beyond 118,000 words, and that passed by the conference table. I can only hope my word count doesn't doom my work, but trashing and slashing it to fit the norm would do it just the same.

Above all, you must have a good story. And I know I have that.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Guest Blogger: K.M. Weiland

Please welcome my guest blogger, K.M. Weiland, on her blog tour as she celebrates the release of her novel, Behold the Dawn.

About the Author: K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released Behold the Dawn.
She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture.

Synopsis: Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade.

Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot elude the past. Amidst the pain and grief of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.

The sins of a bishop.
The vengeance of a monk.
The secrets of a knight.

Top 10 Lessons From a Completed Novel

Behold the Dawn, my second historical novel (this one set in during
the Third Crusade in the Middle Ages) was released earlier this month. As I catch my breath from all my happy dancing and sighs of relief, I’m able to look back at some of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of two published novels and share them with you:

1. Finishing is the single most important factor in writing anything. If you have any intention of succeeding in this writing game, you have to be prepared to apply plenty of bum glue. A novel that’s never finished will never be read by anyone.

2. Don’t skimp on the planning/researching stages. Recording ideas, charting outlines (however lightweight or in-depth), and researching in the early phases of writing saves so much work in the long run. This is a lesson I learned the hard way.

3. Messy first drafts are okay; that’s what revision is for. Don’t fuss too much over plot holes and sloppy writing in the first draft. You can always go back and fix mistakes later, once you have a completed draft under your belt.

4. The story needs to dictate the word count, not the word count the story. While you’re writing, let the story flow as organically as possible. Most stories have a way of finding their own perfect rhythm and length. You can work on trimming or padding the word count later.

5. Don’t worry if the story becomes something unexpected. Few stories end up looking like we think they will. They all have a way of evolving as we write them—and that’s almost always a good thing.

6. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. When it comes time to revise, be merciless. Look extra hard at your favorite scenes, characters, and lines; if any one of them is less than perfect, they’ll have to go, no matter how much you love them.

7. Objective beta readers are vital. Writers will never obtain complete objectivity about their work. It’s important to find two or three trusted, experienced readers who can go over your early drafts and point out your blind spots.

8. Let the novel sit for a while after completion. I find that I can never really see a completed project clearly unless I throw it into the back of the closet and ignore it for at least a couple months. Start work on a new project and forget all about the first one, until you’ve had time to gain some objective distance.

9. Don’t hoard your work. When we pour our heart and soul into a story, it’s often a bit difficult to hand it over to the judgment of strangers. But a book that is never read isn’t much better than a book that is never finished.

10. A completed novel is always a triumph. Every completed novel, no matter its intrinsic value, is a success. It doesn’t have to be published; it doesn’t have to garner a huge advance; it doesn’t have to sell a million copies. The very fact that you had the guts and the skill to finish a book is huge accomplishment in itself. Don’t forget to bask in that for a while, before moving on.

Thanks for the great post, Katie. Good luck on your tour.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

My Autumn Status

Let's see. Where am I when I'm not running or eating pumpkin pie? I am about 80% done with my novel, Sapphire Reign. I really need to be working faster and get it done. It doesn't help that I'm an edit-as-I-go kind of writer. Having my book finished by the end of the year is my goal.

I don't think I'll have time for Nano this year, even though it was so much fun last year. Although, I don't think I paid enough attention to my husband last November. All my characters in my Nano project ended up super horny. I didn't even realize it until I went back to reread it. Good luck to all those entering.

I am using Twitter more now, not a lot, but more than once a month heehee, because SO many agents are using it AND communicating with one another, so I want to be kinda-sorta likewise savvy. If you haven't already and don't mind being bored to tears, you can find me here:

I am now seeking representation. I've been sending out queries all summer, slowly, about 4-6 agents a month. I don't like just going by what genres they represent and zipping off queries. I like to get a feel for personality, to see if it's worth my time. So, reading blogs and Twitter pages to see if there's potential compatibility takes time. If an agent is not online, I don't disregard them entirely, but it makes me wonder about their connections, so I put them at the bottom of my list. Plus, I think it's really wonderful when agents reach out and take time out of their busy schedules to post articles to help writers do their best.

Another reason why I'm going slowly is because I don't want to get overwhelmed if I get several requests at once. [Please let that happen to me!!! Come on.] Doing mass submissions by the 50's or more is just not my style. I do need to pick up the pace I think, but I will still keep it under 12 a month. That's reasonable and doable.

I am also working on a collaborative blog, which will be launching in a couple of weeks, with writers who are at various stages in their writing careers. Be sure to look for my announcement on that. This blog with all the zany regular writers and guest bloggers should be a lot of fun.

And that's about it. What have you been up to?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Passionate Writers Wanted: No Posers Allowed

Yesterday, I read a first chapter on a critique forum I belong to where a male character—position not given—gave a just-hired guidance counselor a tour at his new employ. The whole chapter was empty. The dialogue was stilted, the characters non-existent, the narrative completely absent of voice, tone, texture, description and pertinent action. Plus, it brimmed with dialogue tags. Obviously, this word-waster’s a beginner, but even worse than that, a poser…not just someone who wants to write and has no clue where to start or how to bring words to life…this is someone who’s writing without passion. Clearly.

When people are passionate about something, no matter what it is, there’s an undeniable spark you can see, a hint of potential and desire underneath the rubble, and you know, aha, a diamond in the rough...which ultimately leads to dedication, persistence and a stretch for success. But, no matter how hard you try to write fantastic prose, if you don’t have passion for what you’re doing and believe in your ability to tell the story, it’s going to show.

Not that my work is perfect. I’m still in bloom. I’m an unpublished newbie and have so much to learn, but, I need to write, be it short story, poem, flash, novel, doesn't matter. Writing is my dream revealer, my stress release, my thought organizer, my creative breath. I’m driven to put paper to pen and sharpen my knowledge by learning from others and reading books on craft so I can write well. In fact, reading books on technique is what kick-started me to write my first novel.

I love elements about my baby, but I’ve laid it to rest, at least for now. I poured so much emotion into it while writing it. I cried when I killed off my MC, Jenna’s best friend, steamed in fury during heated conflicts, trembled when Jenna was fending off the knife-wielding rapist who killed her BF, and reached for tissues again when she was reading a kiss-off note from her love interest even though I knew it was a practical joke being flipped into a marriage proposal.

As crazy as this emotional rollercoaster seems to you, that’s what passion is, being parked in the shoulder, searching high and low in your car for another crayon because your frantic writing is illegible on Dunkin Donuts napkins in that stupid light green. If you’re writing without experiencing the thrill and emotion of the work and not pouring everything into it, then you’re merely attempting to string words together that you only hope make some sort of sense and entertain.

Check out reviews on Amazon. With experienced, well-known authors, from Dean Koontz to James Patterson, readers can easily spot the difference between novels that were rushed to meet deadline and those birthed out of passion. Plots are weaker, characters are flatter, endings are messy or unsatisfying. Everything’s different and all the worse for the lesser effort. Those writers make big bucks for publishing houses and themselves, so they’re allowed to fudge every now-and-then and hand in something under the gun.

But don’t let that be you—except for raking in the money part of course. ;) No matter where you are or end up in life, or how many awards you win, never lose your soul's fire or consider something finished and great if it didn't stem from it.

You should always strive to add greater depth and make your work better, to hone your skill and find your true voice, to develop characters so rich and full that even you forget they’re not real and care what happens to them during the journey and after THE END. Discover and use your most hidden, ugly, lovely, horrible emotions. Write the best pieces you can, losing sweat, tears and sleep in the process. Because if you don’t, readers will see the shallowness in what you’ve written. They’ll know. Don’t be a poser: a sub-par, mediocre, commonplace wannabe. Be exceptional, a true writer, an author, rushing onward in your drive and love for the craft. Grow and learn and work harder. For personal use, write whatever you want, but for the masses, always write with passion. Always give your best effort. Never less.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Your MC Did What????

In Quincy, MA two patrons at a Mc'Donald's chucked coins and safety cones at three cashiers after receiving small fries instead of the large size they ordered. This isn't supposed to be a funny story but I laughed reading the whole article, which you can read here.

It's just such an extreme and INSANE reaction for such a small infraction, one where a simple, "Um, you gave me the wrong size fries," should fix the problem.
This misalignment makes a moment of rage comical.
What's even funnier is it was the second fast food altercation in the area within a four-day span. What is wrong with people though?! Seriously.

An important aspect for believablitity in fiction is stimulus and response. In order for your characters to be believable, you must provide appropriate stimuli and catalysts for story directions and the decisions and choices characters make. Keeping stimulus and response in mind, you can get your character to do anything you desire. You just need to brainstorm and come up with an appropriate stimulus.

In the movie Falling Down, Michael Douglas's character, Bill Foster, gets pushed over the edge after a hellacious morning where everything possible has gone wrong. He pulls a gun on a cashier at a fast food restaurant because they stopped serving breakfast. Such a small infraction again, but now we have a reason for the postal moment. Because the tension/stilumus was built up beforehand, it still looks as crazy as the Quincy nuts, but we can understand what made Bill snap. He's a believable and identifiable anti-hero and we follow along.

Make sure you provide the nudges your story needs to make sense and not be laughable.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sound of Music Surprise

Haha. This is so funny and cool. Just thought I'd share it.

More than 200 dancers performed their version of "Do Re Mi", in the Central Station of Antwerp. With just 2 rehearsals they created this amazing stunt! It was a promotion stunt for a Belgian television program, where they are looking for someone to play the leading role, in the musical of "The Sound of Music".

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Little Drones

I hate when I can perfectly visualize a scene, yet when I try to put it on paper, it just doesn't come out quite as sparkly and vivid. That's where I'm at today. I'm writing a scene that is falling flat and boring me. I like plunging readers into the middle of a scene, but here I need to show some stuff before the good, better stuff. The lead up is what's boring and transitioning from one locale to another.

To add some more oomph to the scene, after I've written it, I'll go back in and insert texture, like sensory impressions and reactions, and hopefully that will work. If not, I'll scrap it and try something different.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Inspiration Jags and Nags

Sometimes inspiration can wane and other times it can rush in where and when you least expect it. It's often small things that inspire me, little ideas that grow into novel-length concepts. An overheard plot for mass murder in a dream gave me the plot concept for Kings & Queens. Another dream with a little girl psychically connected to a serial killer gave me my idea for the sequel, Sapphire Reign. In that dream, I was a different person, which never happens, who ended up being a character in my book.

Fellow blogger/writer, Dara, just had an inspirational dream set in a specific time period with multiple characters. Read about her experience here.

My book Dropping Like Flies was inspired by a sound, just an intercom type noise while I was lying in bed. And an article on foster children being pushed back into society right at eighteen gave me my idea for Decadence. I wondered what if the teen was even younger, like sixteen, and the world even more harsh and dangerous? What if this person had no family to turn to? What would this person do to survive? My character becomes a prostitute.

Pieces of dreams, emotions or things that affect me often inspire my poetry and short stories. And I'm usually compelled to at least write down my inspired thoughts before they escape me. That's the nagging part of inspiration, the voice that won't go silent.

Where do you find your inspiration?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review: Wicked Lovely

Author: Melissa Marr
Publisher: Harper Collins (April 9, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061214671
ISBN-13: 978-0061214677
My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦


The clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in this cool, urban 21st century faery tale. Rule #3: Don't stare at invisible faeries. Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in the mortal world, and would blind her if they knew of her Sight. Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries. Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer. Rule #1: Don't ever attract their attention. But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King and has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost! Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working any more, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.

High school senior Aislinn tries to go through life as normally as possible, but her life is anything but normal. She can see and hear the dreadful fey that live invisibly alongside oblivious mortals. Aislinn lives in constant fear of being exposed to the fey. Her sighted Gram has instilled rules to never stare at faeries or speak to them and avoid them at all costs because they’ve been known to blind mortals they learn are sighted. Aislinn knows them to be fierce and brutal, so she has no problem following these rules.

Encased in a city of steel she feels somewhat safe since faeries are allergic to hard metals, but something has changed. Various fey have been following her, loitering outside, whispering about her being “the one”. Two of the stalkers especially rattle her. They seem near-impervious to steel, which means they’re likely royalty. One looks like a golden god whose hair resembles strands of sharp copper, and the other, a near-frozen faerie looks so close to death, and is accompanied by a wolf.

Keenan, the Summer King, has spent centuries looking for his Summer Queen to release the bond his mother Beira, the Winter Queen, has placed on his powers. He has seduced mortal after mortal, some choosing to be his immortal Summer Girls, who gain their sustenance from him alone, and others choosing to risk it all for his love, to be declared the Summer Queen. If a girl fails Beira’s test, she becomes her chilled slave, with the sole aim to warn mortals of Keenan’s duplicity. And the frigid Winter Girl of the hour, Donia, still loves Keenan, in spite of the fact the he duped her.

Keenan believes Aislinn is his Summer Queen, that she will finally be the one to pass the test. He just has to convince her of that, but when he’s in his human glamour, she wants nothing to do with him. She loves this mortal, Seth, for one thing, and she won’t stop walking away from him. What will Aislinn choose once he’s able to woo her? He’s certain he can convince her to submit to the test, but the skittish girl he meets finds strength in herself and comes up with her own plan.

The lyrical style was overall nice and easy to read but the characters in Wicked Lovely could have been more fully developed. Aislinn needs more fullness aside from her sight, her relationship with Gram and her crush on Seth. Aislinn is not as flat as other reviewers on Amazon have pegged her. She transforms in the book, going from weak to strong, and that’s the best you can ask of a character.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the various types of fey, but the relationships all around only scratched the surface of real love. If this were a stand alone book, I’d feel robbed because the work falls somewhat short of its concept. I know there’s more to be discovered in the series, so I can cut Melissa Marr some slack. I’ve already read Ink Exchange, which I liked better. It delves into more of the faerie court stuff and very little in the real world.

It’s an interesting work anyway. Check it out.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Switching Up Style

I have five POVs in my sequel and I'm at the point where information is spilling out and the threads will begin to come together. Up until now, it has seemed like the stories were barely related, with the simple common thread that the characters were experiencing some kind of weirdness.

For the most part, I have been writing chronologically, except for a few straggling scenes I felt compelled to sketch out when a creative burst hit. Now, I think I'm going to write each POV several scenes ahead, so I can keep track of things better.

If you're working on a larger written work, do you ever switch your style as you're going along? I'm curious to know if and how people adapt their style and method to better flow with inspiration and productivity.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Super Sonic Blast

Almost every writer goes through dry spells where they just don't feel like writing, due to writer's block, disinterest, whatever. And on the flip side, there's also that burst of creativity that has millions of thoughts itching to get out all at once. I'm currently on the flip side.

I have ideas for two more YA novels, which I've written the first chapters for, but I'm still trying to finish my sequel too. Yesterday, I wrote a chapter for Sapphire Reign, that I'm soooo excited about. It just clicked, had the right emotion and correct amount of suspense. I love the way it came out. Love. It.
I'm a just-wing-it kind of writer, not an outliner, not a note carder. And I love when my mind just clicks into super sonic mode. I wish I could be this way all the time and that I also had the ability to work on several books at once like some writers do, but I have a hard time functioning with a splintered focus. I'm not even sure if I'll go with these books, but characters and ideas pressed to be written, so I obeyed the call. I did have fun writing them in my creative burst, but geneally, I like to get one project finished before moving on to the next one. That's just me.
These are just first drafts, but if you want to check out the first chapters for my new ideas, click on my excerpt links and let me know what you think. I'm used to critique, so any feedback is welcome. Both are edgy YA~suspense.

Dropping Like Flies

A month shy of graduation, Kiralyn Jacobs should have the world at her feet, but when she’s chosen as the new keeper of The List and people around her start dropping like flies, she discovers the spinning orb on which we all tread is anything but a step stool. It’s more like a hell…from which there’s no escape…no escape but death. Others before her, much stronger, braver and smarter than she, gave in to self-destruction. As broken as she is, how does she stand a chance and how can she save the one guy she loves from reaching the top and being lost to her forever?

Chapter 1


In 2032, when Zinnia Sorren graduates from a prison-like reform school at the tender age of sixteen and is thrust back into a prickly techno world without a family, money or anything to her name, she offers up the one thing she knows will sell, especially in a society where joy and morality have decayed. In under two years, her dedication to excellence and imp-like beauty rocket her into the secret circles of the most prestigious men on the East side of the Americas and she becomes the most requested doll of delight. Determined to find out who and why someone elected to have her family rounded up and executed in a cleansing camp eight years ago, she hides behind the masks of false identities in order to thrive and uncover the truth. But when one of her clients is murdered in the middle of a trick, she learns her true identity is not as buried as she thought, and the only way to answers is to return to a torturous past she never wants to touch again and to fight against those who have marked her for death.

Chapter 1

What kind of mode are you in? And what do you do with either too much or too little writing energy?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Is Bipolar Disorder So Popular?

Every writer wants to be fresh and different to stand out from the pack in this competitive industry, but using an unhinged narrator or waffling narrative style is NOT the way to go right out of the gate. You need to have a very good grasp of Narratives and adeptness in each before you can use First and Third in one work. With First Person, voice is the most important thing. It's not just transferring He and She to an I perspective; it's about delving in deep and exposing an engaging character, giving readers a more intimate look. To avoid having flat and lifeless drones, you must become a master of voice.

I've read some unpublished works that have a few chapters in First present, then chapters in Third past inserted wherever. Or 95% of the book is Limited and a few sneak peeks go all Omni. Wait. Settle that crazy pen down, Buckaroos. This is jarring to readers. Aim for seamless, easy, functional, entertaining, readable work. If your narration jumps all over the place, it won't be any of those things.

Everything you do as a writer needs to be deliberate and focused. Using fluctuating Narrators is not unheard of but you need to pull back the reigns a bit. Instead of looking unique, you are at risk for coming across as inept and scatterbrained, like you have no clue about perspective. That's not the impression you want to give.

This is an example of a focused, deliberate switch: using a Third Person Frame that connects First Person Vignettes. Say you're writing a book like The Green Mile and want to delve into the head of each character right before execution. With proper transitions, readers will know, okay, each time "Dead man walking!" is called, the story's going to shift into First. Or you could have characters around a campfire sharing freaky real-life stories or alcoholics at an AA meeting or a couple at counselling. The Third Person Narration keeps everything tied together. It works. But just having this chapter Third, the next two First, the next three Third, plus, tense changes is very confusing and jarring. Don't do this, please.

And then there's the head-hopping Narrator that breaks out of its Limited shell suddenly in chapter 5, sneaking in something that's outside the knowledge of the POV character. What? No. You can use a tightly reigned Omniscient Narrator that sticks with one character per scene and interjects commentary here and there that the focus character doesn't know, but this type of Narrator must make its presence known in the first sentence or paragraph of the work.

I just finished Needful Things. Stephen King used an Omniscient Narrator, made it known in chapter 1, but 95 % of the time kept the focus on one scene character. You can vary the degree of intensity into heads or the focus, staying more so with one character or roving constantly. As long as you provide clear transitions and separate new perspectives with new paragraphs, you can generally keep it from being jarring. But you'll need to go fleshy and get extremely deep and with character development so readers will care about the outcome and enage in the story.

With Needful Things, which had dozens of POVs, I struggled to finish those 800 pages because the characters were cardboard and I didn't care. I wanted to see how it resolved, but I didn't care about any of the characters, I didn't care if the villain won in the end. So make the extra effort to make your characters pop off the page with engaging personalities and perspectives.

Random switches whenever you please is unfair. You make a contract with readers in chapter 1 that you're going to tell one kind of story, and any departures from that established mode breach it.

If you're going to do anything unusual, then you need to set patterns and keep a very rigid structure. Alternate every other chapter, for instance, or use First in chapter 1, the next two in Third. First in chapter 4, the next two in Third. Keep yourself locked in to a definite method to avoid confusing your readers. Use good transitions. Give cues that you're about to change gears. This will demonstrate that you know what you're doing and you're not just flying with the wind or riding on a pogo stick, doing whatever you please.

If you really want to be weird and original, then aim for a unique concept instead. Have quirky characters. Take your plot in unexpected directions. Build in some twists. This will get far more attention and recognition than skipping around with haphazard zest ever will. If you're all over the place, you won't look original, you won't look creative, you won't look fresh-faced...just crazy and stupid. And FYI crazy people get much smaller checks. Make sure your Narration is focused and that you're telling the story in the best way possible.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Unlocking the Block

Writing inspiration can come in waves. One day you’re trucking along great, knee-deep in your latest work, spinning out a definite bestseller, and then suddenly, everything hits the skids. Total log jam. Lots of things can cause this to occur. Lack of motivation, fear of writing a scene or that you’re moving in the wrong direction, boredom or a minor character has turned into an obtrusive annoyance and is hogging stage presence and you're exhausted from trying to contain him or her. Once that all-familiar blockage does occur, you can do something besides sit in front of your monitor with an unchurning mind. Here are some things I do to unlock the block.

READ: I find reading books on craft or an engrossing novel easily gets my juices flowing again. Usually, I only have to read a few pages of a novel and can’t continue reading because my writer brain gets the jolt it needed.

JUMP: Sometimes the next scene on our to-do list is the thing that’s causing a snag. I’m currently writing a novel, Sapphire Reign, and it’s so intricate, with multiple plotlines all woven together, so I find myself fighting to stay motivated. It’s a story I want to tell, but in needing to keep it somewhat harnessed so it doesn’t get out of control, I get tired and hit frequent dry spells. The next scene I need to write is something I’m just not feeling at the moment. I’ve been struggling all day to get back into my regimen, despite my sports ban. So, rather than letting it stall me, I’m jumping ahead to a scene I’m more in the mood to write. If you’re a gotta-stick-to-my-outline-or-kill-the-story type, jump to the end of your book, write scenes out of order. Don’t be scared. Mix things up. If you end up with junk, that’s okay, you can just go back to it and try again.

GET MESSY: You can power down and step away from the computer. That’s right. Get yourself a notepad, note cards or a binder and be willing to make a mess. I find when I spend too much time in front of the screen, my creativity can become hindered. So I like to use a manic pad for each long piece I’m working on, a utility drawer of sorts filled with ideas, scribbled notes, character sketches, bits of dialogue, brainstorming lists and scenes. I don’t let anyone touch my pad either. I’m very private about the contents. I don't even let my husband take a peek at my hair-brained ideas, hideous handwriting, misspelled words or story elements out of context. You’re a writer, so pick up a pen and let yourself get messy, yet organized at the same time. You can also take the pad with you when you go out, so when you find inspiration, you can jot down your ideas.

TAKE A BREAK: Usually if I set my work aside, write a poem, have sex, take the kids for ice cream, go for a hike or a run in the rain or whatever, I can come back to it with fresh thoughts. Break away from writing, do things you enjoy or take up new activities and then pick up writing again. Sometimes you just need fresh air or movement or your brain simply needed a rest.

GET IN THE ZONE: Whether you work better on the couch with the kids running all around or tucked away in your personal office, if your zone has lost its mojo, try working in a new space or prep your mind and body for writing in the same way you condition a child for bedtime. Get a routine, or mix yours up. Fix yourself a coffee, cocoa or whatever you like to drink, put on the comfy threads and turn on some music to inspire, even if you have to turn it off while you write. Having scheduled time to write can help. Give yourself some time to find and settle into your zone.

SWITCH IT UP: Write beyond your penchant. Work on short stories, essays, articles or poems and stretch yourself in new directions. You may be stuck in one area, and yet by moving to a new one, you can create a work that fills you with pride and a sense of accomplishment.

EXERCISE: It’s important to exercise your writing chops from time to time, even if you're not experiencing writer's block. There are plenty of writing exercises you can do, to get your drive and fire back. Freewriting is basically brainstorming with a time limit. Get paper and a pen, set the timer to ten minutes and just jot down whatever ideas comes into your mind. Don’t even lift your pen off the paper until the time is up. You may not end up with anything, but this could spark some ideas. Use a writing prompt like: I cried. And just go with it. Find the hidden story in photos or randomly selected words from the dictionary. I wrote a story with random words that I’ll share tomorrow.

I hope some of those ideas help you unlock your block. Keep at it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Going to the Dark Side

Before sitting down to write any novel, I draft up complete sketches of all my characters with their likes, dislikes, background info, quirks, temperaments, etc. By doing this, I can shift into writing the story and show more, tell less. My characters can jump on stage and be who they are and I don’t try to explain them. If you don’t have fleshed out characters, it doesn’t matter how cool your plot is, no one will care enough to read on and find out about your never-seen-before twists. I’m going to talk about creating great villains because they’re just so much fun to think up and read about.

Epics and character studies show character growth, some big change or a time period I'm supposed to care about, but for me, the most compelling stories have a driving force coming against the protagonist, whether it be some greedy corporation, a massive asteroid on a collision course with earth or a relentless person hell-bent on bringing destruction and chaos to the novel‘s hero. Entra…the antagonist. [Cue Darth Vader‘s theme, because it rocks and makes this particular character seem all the more villainesque.]

Villains can be hidden in the shadows, causing misery behind a mask of obscurity until the very last page or front and center with his or her own perspective, revealing justification at every plot turn. Pure sadism is difficult for readers to believe in because a landslide of evil schemes and desires without good reason backfires and turns your Prince of Darkness into a cartoon. Presenting utter malevolence without motivation means you were lazy and didn’t bother to flesh out your bad guy. Even Hitler, one of the worst monsters in history, had motivations. Societal cleansing. A desire for a stronger Germany. European domination. In his mind his actions were justified, which is how your villain needs to be.

Think of Darth Vader. [Yes, I’m a geek and you can cue the theme music.] Has there ever been a more interesting villain in film? Well, Hannibal Lecter is up there too, but still, Vader’s evil, yet pretty cool. We understand he used to be a good guy, a Jedi, who tried to balance the Force, but succumbed to the dark side. True, we may hold some sympathy for him, but conversely, we don‘t want him to win. George Lucas is often criticized for the newer films he made, but as an artist and writer I can completely understand his use of contrast. The overabundance of Jar Jar Binks aside, Lucas wanted to show the innocent, adventurous young Jedi-to-be, then a glimpse of the man he could've been because we know the outcome and it makes Anakin’s fall to the dark side all the more tragic.

Give your villain a past, interesting facets and ideals, friends, a job, a church home, quirks and reasons for evil doing. You need to find the balance and make your villains credible, logical, and believable, yet not likable. Don’t pull back on your writing or be afraid to get inside your character’s head. Characterization and motivation need to pop to show your antagonist is capable of winning the battle and that the final outcome is anyone‘s game. That kind of uncertainty heightens suspense and gives you the perfect opportunity to showcase your hero's strengths and weaknesses by contrast.

You can make your villain a twisted reflection of your hero, both owning the same core qualities but being bent in different ways. Take Hannibal Lecter and Clarice. They’re both analytical, methodical, brilliant, never impetuous--everything must be thought out before action is taken, yet they're polar opposite in proclivity.
When you’re writing stories with a mystery thread, the villain is often unknown. Then you can look for ways to hint at evil beneath the surface to throw any character into question. The guy who’s toooo nice. The obvious suspect you just can’t read, likable sometimes, deplorable the rest. The jilted old flame, the bizarre new worker in the office, the societal outcast, the nosy neighbor, the know-it-all postman. You can also use prejudice, a reader’s inclination to make assumptions about people, to your advantage. Secret villains need to be equally enthralling, maybe more so than exposed ones. And still, provide motivation in the end.

A great way to bring some facets to your villains is to look at evil itself. Evil can be subtle, beautiful, seductive, frightening, complex, suffocating, confusing, witty, cunning. Build and draw various shades of evil. The Phantom of the Opera. Scary, but sexy and alluring, intoxicating, nearly irresistible. Your villain will appear more intriguing if you show various sides of his or her particular brand of evil. Make it unique. The better the villain, the better the hero, the better the story. Keep at it...and use the Force.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Avoid Flooding in Your Work

Last Saturday, I woke up to the sound of dripping water, no, pouring water, splashing, definitely making something very, very wet in my basement. It was raining, so I thought water was coming in through the windows. Oh no. That would have been good news. The water heater decided to expunge its contents onto the floor, leaving me with a two-inch pond to clean up. Not fun! But not that bad either. Many people have lost their entire homes and even loved ones and pets in real floods, so, in perspective, 40 gallons of water or there-abouts is really not that tear-worthy. Just a pain in the butt.

Now, exactly a week later, after my husband tried to keep the old one hanging on but lost in the fight, we have a new tank. Fourteen bucks to rent one from the gas company a month is totally doable.

When you're writing long fiction, sometimes things can flood your work and create gloppy bogs. Here is a list of things to avoid, especially if you're a unpublished newbie.

The prologue that explains things in order for readers to understand the story. A prologue, if there is one, should just hint at something weird, entice, or maybe it can be a short view into a time outside of your main story. Melissa Marr in Wicked Lovely has a great one and Frank Perritti in The Visitation. They're short, somewhat weird, they set the tone and they pull readers in. You're prologue should do this. Hint. Foreshadow. Parallel. Show something vitally important. Don't info dump.

The exposition landslide. You don't have to give buckets of backstory and information at the onset. Just start your story where your story starts, which does not necessarily have to be an action sequence, but it does need to be close to the dawning of your story question. Your story question is what hooks readers. Will she find escape from her abusive, alien ex-husband? Will they catch this psycho killer who is expressing Beatles tunes with dead bodies and creative crime scenes? Find your question and make it obvious what your story's about in chapter one. Give readers something to care about and latch on to.

Strange punctuation and hacked words to denote dialect. In bits and pieces or for minor characters, it's okay, but throughout a novel, it can be very tiresome for the reader. Instead, try and use terms and phrases common to the area of origin.

Too much telling. The demand to show not tell is drilled into writers' heads because it's so important to vivid, engaging storytelling. So when you can, show.

Too many adverbs. They have their place, but often times you can find a strong verb to say what a verb-adverb combo does. So look around, check the thesaurus, stretch.

Purple prose. Flowery, poetic writing, though it sounds nice, often draws more attention to the author. Purple prose can come out as excessive description and sweeping love scenes that bring amusement parks rides and sparkling clouds into sexual responses. You can certainly be lyrical, you can use a FEW precious violets, but avoid waves and waves of heather. It can be cool, if you use it with intent to paint contrast, a lush landscape now tainted by the presence of a dark character. But purple for the sake of drowning readers in lovely words? No. Nix that junk post haste.

Draggy dialogue. The draggiest dialogue is not dialogue at all. It's conversation that has no business being in the story. If it doesn't advance the plot, add more depth to the story or reveal character, either rewrite it so it's more vital or get rid of it. And don't allow characters to unnaturally discuss things for the benefit of the reader. Some Sci-fi writers do this so we understand the society, rules or time and place. Show how things work and are instead.

Dull verbs. Need I say more? Punchy verbs are important for making your voice stand out, so look for some gems.

Avoid those book flooders and make your work shine. You can do it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Build Characters with Depth

Ok. You began with a good sketch of your protagonist for your plot-driven novel. As you wrote your book, he practically came alive for you and veered your story in ways you never intended, making your work exceptionally better than you'd planned, but still, something is off. Test readers, or worse, agents, are saying they loved your twists, the suspense was riveting, but your main guy was one-dimensional…not fleshed out…not believable. Hmmm? Where did you go wrong?

I've read books that were packed with conflict but not so engaging. These are generally works readers on Amazon will say were strong in plot but weak in characterization. In creative writing class, after you've made your character sketch, this is how we’re told to write. Let every scene end with some kind of disaster, where a goal is not fully met, an answer is not found, a hero turns towards certain peril. The problem with having every scene be about achieving a goal or fighting through conflict is it can leave your work feeling stark…and it probably is. All scenes need to be related to the story, they need to be pertinent, but they don’t ALL have to be about having a goal or showing a conflict. Sometimes it’s important to show a piece of a puzzle or a hunter getting closer to his prey or a phone conversation after another nightmarish date or a police officer tucking her daughter into bed at night. Don’t get so wrapped up in structure that your work can't breath and be told in its own unique way.

Unless your audience is middle-grade boys who care more about blood, battle and boogers, (Good title!), don’t cheat readers. You should aim for both solid plotting and intriguing characters. Delve deeper and find out who your characters are, who they truly are, from top to bottom, inside out and then present that to readers.

With my novel, Kings & Queens, readers are always asking me what’s happening with my characters or how they’re doing as though they’re real people. When I tell those inquiring minds I’m writing a sequel, they say they can’t wait to pick up with their lives again. What lives? They’re not alive, people! But they almost feel like they are, even to me, like they’re living off in Fantasia or a parallel universe. That’s what you want. Readers to feel like they’ve met real people and to feel a little bit sad and miss them when the ride is over.

Here are some things you can do to ensure your main characters pop off the page.

Humanize: No character, friend or foe, is all good or all bad. Characters needs various shades and facets to stand out and be believable and identifiable to readers. Your villains need to have a dash of something good, even if it's just concern for the environment, or their motivations need to be clear, and your heroes or heroines need to have flaws and weaknesses. Perfect characters are bores on the page.

Layer: Make sure you’ve peppered your narrative with your main character’s tastes, interests, contradictions, quirks, props (lucky sneakers, glasses bent just right so they don't appear crooked on his slightly uneven ears), ghosts from the past, secrets, connections to other people who never grace the pages of your book like grandmas and old lovers. Characters need to feel like real people, who have lived their lives up until the moment you started to pen their circumstances. Layering will give your characters greater depth and dimension. However, your work should NOT be so saturated that it creates drag. Attempt to show much of this or spill it out through dialogue and action. Balance is key. If a point doesn’t belong or is too obtrusive, get rid of it.

Texturize: Don’t forget to tickle the senses beyond what’s seen and heard. By showing how your character responds to chilly mist, to the wall of scorching humidity when he steps out of his hotel in Shanghai, to the salty anchovies on his boss’s pizza, to the peppery chocolate scent emanating from the kitchen where her mom is baking another batch of experimental brownies, you can add texture to both your scene and character at the same time.

Shift: Let your heroine take a detour from her mapped out sketch and break type. When pressure is applied or danger bursts in or a grim diagnosis is given, real people deal and cope in different ways. They do stupid things, make mistakes, crumble, take wrong turns, cry, turn to God, say things they later regret, backpedal, contemplate suicide. So in fiction, your characters can do this. Shake things up and surprise readers. Just remember, every major action a character takes in fiction should stem from some sort of stimulus. As long as you make your variation believable and make it seem like an appropriate response or action by your MC, readers will buy it. If your heroine becomes too wimpy or stalls too long, readers will stop caring. No one likes a wimp or a loser. Keep the story moving. Kick your MC in the butt.

Show: Are you doing too much telling? Look for places you may have been able to show what you told. Readers will become more drawn into your work if they can experience what the character does. Showing helps to transport readers into your fictional world and identify with your hero. You can reveal so much character through speech and action.

Push: Do your characters have goals? All point of view characters need to want something in order for readers to care: revenge, love, justice, one day of tranquility, an Ivy League education. Up the stakes and the opposition. Make your MC work harder to attain his goals. Show the struggle, sweat, tears, determination, disappointment, passion. Overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds makes victory all the sweeter. Don't hold back or be afraid to stack up the obstacles. That creates tension and suspense, which makes for an all around stronger work.

Expose: Get into your character's mind and explore their desires and motivations. The more fully you relay this information to readers, the more readers will care about the outcome and connect. Sometimes characters live behind a facade or they vary their persona based on the company they're in. They act prim and proper with coworkers, cut loose with friends, or they say one thing and think another. Look at The Good Son. The parents are oblivious to their son's evil bent, but little by little he exposes it to his cousin. Allow your characters to reveal their innermost selves.

Build those memorable characters. You can do it. Give your babies every chance to not only reel in readers but leave a lasting impression.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Collective Inspiration ~ Thank You All

So, I've been blogging for almost a year, and in that time, many people have found my blog through various search engine terms. My new blog friend, Sandy, pieced together a brilliant poem using word-for-word search lines that have ushered people to her blog. You can read that bit of fabulousness here. Most of my terms involve prose, artistic voice and stuff like that, or my highest "weird true stories" which currently tallies 37 hits, and I didn't get any gems as precious as hers, but I was inspired to see if I could find something at least kinda sorta sparkly in my own heap.

Everyone who faithfully reads my blog knows I love challenges and have a hard time keeping my pen quiet and still. I was able to make sense of madness and piece together my own poem, a poem that fits my blog's theme and doesn't entirely suck. These are actual search terms. No doctoring involved. From trash to treasure, here it is. I call it Creative Burst:

listening ears
find a symphonic zone
while running
falling in love
crying on a pillow

in the dark of night
during wild sex
in fits of mania
from yesterday
beyond twilight

be weird and crazy
stir curiosity
stretch for greatness
be passionate
find artistic voice

you superstar
queen of hearts
sex goddess
homeless man
child born with pen

to be or not to be,
that is the question
find the story
the untold story
poetic license

deep within
springing out
like glorious angels
like soul's fire
in a creative burst

Thanks for all your help, guys and dolls. I never could have created this poem without all the fine people who have paid a visit to my blog. Sometimes art can be found in the strangest places. Thanks for the tip, Sandy. See if you can create your own.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Finding Voice: Your Ultimate Superpower

Okay. I’m finally going to share a secret with the world, something I’ve never actually told a soul. Ready?

I have...a super power.

No really. It's true. So stop laughing or doing that head bobbing thing with one corner of your lips pinched, as though I'm fruity and out of my mind. Noooo, I can’t fly—though that would totally rock—I can’t see dead people or scale tall buildings, and worst of all, I can’t “Wonder Twin Powers. ACTIVATE!!!” with anyone, but what I CAN do, is remember people to a freakish degree. I never forget people. I call it Social Photographic Memory, though that’s not quite what it is. I remember people I meet, but beyond that, I can remember events, blocks of conversations and things people tell me about themselves, especially if they’re unique. It’s all about people. I can’t find my misplaced debit card, historical junk in my brain or any mathematical solutions beyond Pre-Algebra. I CAN call up my Bio notes from college, but that’s only because I turned Dr. Spohn’s notes into song lyrics. Such things, most of which don’t benefit me at all to know, I will remember until the End of Days or unless Alzheimer’s or amnesia take my mind.
One reason I have vivid recall is my piqued senses intertwine with images, people, objects and events, turning them into lasting memories, infusing them into my brain. I remember not just things from when I was five, I remember BEING five. And not just events, but emotions I felt, smells in the room, tastes, textures, etc.
For instance, they're gone now, but my grandfather’s name was James and my grandmother referred to him as Jimmer. She was the ONLY one who ever called him that. And she always did. Never James or Jim, just Jimmer. I wasn’t even two, and I remember the first time I called him Grandpa Jimmer. Everyone in the kitchen, my aunt, my uncles, my parents, cracked up, bowling over and everything. I remember this wonderful feeling, a sense of pride and accomplishment, for making people laugh.

Another reason why I have Social Photographic Memory—and this is my secret part—is because every person I come across gives me a…hmm…a sensory impression I’ll call it, that is unique to them. In the split second I see someone, and every time, I detect this texture in a person’s soul that triggers an instant yet momentary emotional response. Some are dull, others vibrant. It can be linked to personality, interests, what a person's going through at the time I first see or meet them or how they’ll make me feel in the future.

Whenever my husband walks into the room, I get a peace that's so soft, like a dryer-fresh towel, all smelling nice and feeling warm. My best friend from college = a teddy-bear warmth. Another friend = a zippy jolt. She loves to travel and is always on the go.

Some guy who's guarded can be reminiscent of a stone wall or an onion, and even after I demolish the blockade or peel all the layers, he'll forever and always give me that same evanescent impression. I can instantly know some strange lady loves cats even if she’s not wearing a shirt proclaiming it because her impression is tied up with cats. Totally creepy I know—I get freaked out all the time when I gather enough info for the impression to make sense—but I'm hoping I can someday lend my super power to a character when that perfect plot match enters my brain. I've never heard of anyone else, fictional or not, possessing my offbeat...whatever-it-is...oh, super power, right.

You want your writing to be as distinctive as the sensory impressions people give me. It needs to stand out in a crowd, be unforgettable and expose the deepest parts of your soul. And this beautiful power you possess to make your mark is called voice. Writing voice is as individualized as, well, voice. Every person has their own way of speaking. Even identical twins have differences, revealing their inner selves through attitude, emotion, diction, pacing, tone, word choice.

When you write, your basic speaking voice should be emerging and spilling onto the pages, not Hemingway’s or John Grisham’s or your mom’s. Not that you should write exactly as you think or talk because you could be narrating from an evil POV or a sarcastic or unreliable one, or maybe you curse more than a work can stand. But your prose should contain your uniqueness and also be appropriate for your audience. Tell your story, poem or novel in the way only you can tell it. Voice is what I'm using to write this blog. It exposes so much about me, even if I never mentioned one personal thing. That's why writing on the whole feels so soul-baring. It is. It was pretty scary to hand my work over and have people read and critique it, but I took the bold step and just did it so I could improve.

Here are some things you can do to make sure your voice comes through in your writing.

Relax and just write. Don’t concentrate too hard because it will stifle your voice. Just be free and go.

Broaden your vocabulary. Learning new words all the time will give you a bigger reserve to draw from so your voice doesn’t become stale, so you’re not always falling back on the same crutch words and phrases.

Know the basic writing pitfalls to avoid like misplaced modifiers, too many adverbs, adjectives, etc., so those glitches don’t muck up your prose.

Break out of the clutches of cliché and search inside for some originality and zest.

If grammar’s a weak point for you, get Elements of Style or a book like it to have handy when you hit a bump or have a question.

Every voice has rhythm. Find your ebb and flow and boogie with it.

Have confidence. Trust in your ability to tell the story.

If your voice is eluding you or not sounding quite like the real you, shut out all outside influences so they don’t become infused in your work.

Experiment with different voices, like an array of hats. Obviously from my blog, you can tell I look for the humor that’s all around me and don’t take certain things too seriously. But, I do take my writing seriously. And I use different voices for different mediums and audiences.

Do writing exercises like free writing, random word stories or poems or write first thing in the morning. Work specifically at discovering voice.

Use your emotion.

Write with authenticity and integrity. Be true to yourself. Don't mimic.

Don’t puff up your work or make it loftier than it should be.

Say aloud what you want to write before putting it down and see if it sounds like your true self. You can use a tape recorder for assistance. Or write it first and then read it aloud. Check for continuity and ask yourself if it sounds like you.

Think positively. Published or not, consider yourself a true writer, seizing your passion, honing your craft, living your dream.

Voice can’t be enhanced, borrowed, copied or sharpened; it must be found. It is your ultimate super power, your best tool to reel readers in and turn them into fans. Make a lasting impression, and you can only do that when you tap into that inner you and reveal that to readers. When you find your true voice, your writing will sparkle and be a wonderful reflection of you. Then you'll be able to turn your voice into a brand. You can do it. Let the quest begin.

[Oh. And keep my secret on the down low. Thanks. I don't want the masses hounding me to find out what impressions I get. Sometimes words can't adequately describe anyway.]
~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.