Thursday, November 30, 2006

BABIES, PETS and BRUISES

Babies, Pets and Bruises

What do the three have in common?

They are all elements of life. There are millions of others, of course. A facial tic. An irritable father-in-law. A cold.

They are also gigantic pains in the rear end, or can be, when you give them to your characters because once introduced, they have to be taken care of, just like the real thing.

Take a baby. I just finished a book with a ten-month-old baby and thank goodness I didn't introduce this character until late in the work. Ten month old babies don't walk and aren't able to tend for themselves AT ALL. This means someone has to be holding them, feeding them, changing them, etc… ALL THE TIME. That baby moves from one character's arms to the next and back again. Sometimes I would find myself frantically scrolling through the pages muttering, "Where in the hell is that kid? Who's got him now?"

Or a cold. Nice little touch. Or a broken rib. Every time that character moves or picks something up or bends over, you have to remember their rib. A bruise is even worse. One time I bruised and banged up a heroine's leg only to have it appear long, white and perfect in a love scene two or three manuscript days later. I caught it before I sent it, but that's the danger. After awhile, you just get a little out of sorts always worrying about that bruise. Or the rib. And how many ways can you say sniffle, cough and hack up a lung?

The same goes for a cat. Every time a heroine comes home, don't forget the cat. Feed it once in awhile, too. Have a heart. I think Janet Evanovich does an outstanding job with this aspect of her Stephanie Plum character. Steph has a hamster and Janet always remembers to make sure Steph feeds it, cleans its cage, and make sure someone baby sits it if Steph leaves for awhile. She also added a dog, and to her credit, Bob, the dog, is also always accounted for. She's even made a joke out of his daily, er, functions, using the piles of poop Bob produces as a pay back weapon. Hey, who doesn't enjoy a poop joke?

If you are invested in your character's life and you write them a scene after they have been hurt, for instance, you feel their pain. That little movie in your brain that runs a play by play reel, sees them limping, sees them bleeding, knows they have to hold onto their side because that rib hurts like hell. On the other hand, your characters aren't real people. Could Indiana Jones have really been shot in the arm one day and somehow attached himself to a German submarine the next and traveled across the sea OUTSIDE the submarine to be on hand to rescue the heroine? Well, sort of rescue her. He did tell her to close her eyes…

I digress.

You get the drift. It all has to be real and yet not so real we are making constant hospital visits. In my work, I try to write about exceptional people at exceptional moments, people who conquer their fear and pain to do incredible things for themselves and those who depend on them. Sure, they may have a bullet wound or haven't slept in three days or just lost everyone who matters to them, but they still rise to the occasion and take care of business, just like I would if I were in shape and made of steel and didn't need a nap…

Exceptional people--but don't forget to let them limp and grimace, too. Or sneeze. Or--hey, who's holding the baby???

How about your characters? Ever forget someone had a broken leg or a pet that disappeared after chapter one or anything else amusing? Do you have ways of keeping track besides your little writer's brain? Tell all!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Once Upon a Time, in a Kingdom Far Away, a Writer Sat in a Corner of the Castle...and Agonized

How I Write

There's a monthly column I enjoy in one of the writing magazines I subscribe to. In each issue, a well-known author describes his or her own particular way of going about creation. I thought it would be a fun subject to blog about. I'm not well known, but I'll go first anyway. And if any one else likes the idea, she can take a turn too. I mean, what a perfect way to overcome a severe case of blogger's block -- should that affliction ever strike one of you -- just shake it off and keyboard about your own quirky writing styles.

The dream or idea:
The seeds of my stories often sprout from dreams. My WIP involves villainous dogs, and grew out of a nightmare I had in September.

To those of you who don't, remembering dreams may seem romantic. But there's nothing lovely about most of my dreams, which is probably a big reason why I write suspense. In my night-time visions, faceless villains often chase me. They usually wield knives or guns. I don't know how many times I've dreamed of being shot in the stomach, of all places. It knocks me back, but never kills me (and luckily enough, never hurts or bleeds) so I am free to dream of being chased again and again. Even the ability to flap my arms and fly as high as rooftops just barely keeps me out of the grasp of the bad guys who run along below and grab at my legs and feet. But, wow, am I getting off track here...

The Stewing:
Once the idea presents itself, I mull on it for awhile. If it grows and changes and becomes a living thing, nagging in the back of my head, knocking and refusing to go away, I fiish writing it. If it quiets down and goes peacefully to bed in a forgotten file buried inside my Compaq, I let it stay there, locked up and unfinished.

The First Stack of Crap:
Then comes the first draft. A very, and I stress VERY here, rough outline, which is the crappiest of all crappy first drafts. No one is ever allowed to read this mush pile.

If I was a plotter, maybe I could avoid the self-humiliation of this first rough draft, but I am not one for methodical plotting or outlinging. I've tried it. And all it does is dry up my creative flow.

Back to the Beginning:
Then it's time to start at square one and make the crap prettier. As I've mentioned before, for me, the beginning has to be set with tone, character, attitude, and a strong hook before I can move forward more than a few baby steps. I have labor pains far into some nights, agonizing over the first few paragraphs. Once those are down though, I can write like the wind. Well, let's be honest here, I can write like a gentle breeze, with an occasional mediocre gust.

Intruding Thoughts and Ideas:
As I go along, trying to write on my merry way, bits of back story, big chunks of useless information that, never-the-less, may prove useful in the future -- character sketches, descriptions, bits of setting, you get the idea -- stuff that is too goood to throw away, but is in the way at the moment, I cut and paste to the top of the story file. (Chapter one of the book I'm currently babnging out doesn't start until page 22). Some of that useless, but remotely-possibly-someday-useful stuff, has been dropped into the actual body of work by this time. A lot of the rest of it will wither and die right where it is and I will delete it before I finish the polishing process. But more on that in a minute.

As for the chunks of the story that I later decide don't belong where I wrote them? I move those bits to the end of the file. They too will either get eventually used or completely dropped. Also at the end, in a sort of journal, I note things like daily word count, good or bad writing news, how I'm feeling at a particular point in the story, or important personal events happening in my real life. If I feel stumped by the story, sometimes just writing about my own emotions will unblock me and I can get back to the real WIP.

In the meantime, I still continue to dream at night about being chased by cannibals, masked men and that nerdy boy who had a crush on me back in high school. These dreams intrude on my work in progress. So, I shut them up by writing them down in one of several files labeled "Ideas" and then impound them into that dusty corner of my conputer, where they can scuffle with one another, inbreed, manifest, do whatever the hell it is they do in there, until I'm invested enough n my current project to know I'll finish it, no matter what. If, during the third or fourth draft of my WIP, I get a little bored, I may let a couple of the scuffling ideas out their cage for an entertaining run through the jungle.

The Finished Product:
I fiddle and faddle and fart with my story a lot before I let anyone see it. I want it to be fully formed before I send out birth announcements. I am slow at this part. Well, let's be honest here, I am slow at all the parts, but I'm getting faster. Now it's time to send it to my CPs and my aunt, who is my beta reader. When I get back their comments, I consider the changes they suggest. I often think on this for a couple weeks, while I am on pseudo-vacation from the story. After 10 or 14 days, I can come back with a fresh eye and decide whose suggestions may have merit, and who is way out in left field, gloveless and without a clue.

Now it's time to really finish the work (if it can ever be called finished, although we all agree it can definitely be called work) delete all the crap I didn't use and make sure it's formatted properly.

Then comes the dreaded synopsis.

But formatting and writing synopsis are fodder enough for two more blogs, both of which I'll let other writers wrestle down and pin. The latter is best tackled by out own Alice, the synopsis diva.

So, does any of this ring true for you? How do your ideas come to you? In the shower? While driving? Feel free to save long comments about how you write for your own blogging slot. I would love to read, in detail, about everyne else's process.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Whose Voice is it Anyway?

I love this topic. Voice. In fact, I'm going to steal from five pages worth of notes I used in a workshop I gave at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold Conference in 2004. I'd love to use the whole thing, but it's way to much for a blog so maybe I'll do it in parts.

Your voice comes from inside you
... but you have to dig deep to find it. In most cases, it won't jump out of you and onto the page with the flick of a pen (or click of a mouse, depending on how you write). Your voice is filtered through something powerful and special, something familiar, something wonderfully creative. The secret to finding your storytelling voice is through your characters. But that's only the first step.

"To set your voice free, set your words free. Set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free. It is from the unknowable shadows of your subconscious that your stories will find their drive and from which they will draw their meaning. No one can loan you that or teach you that. Your voice is your self in the story." Donald Maas, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL

Voice is evident in all aspects of the storytelling craft. Characterization especially, but also plot, setting, description, and exposition when you explore the internal workings of your characters' thoughts and his perceptions of the world around him.

For today's blog I'll focus on using character peronalities as a tool to channel your voice.

To become your characters you need to call upon your own personal life experiences & emotions; even if your experience wasn't precisely like that of your character, the emotion may be similar. Grief, joy, pain, anger, heartbreak… Take the death of a child, for example. If you have children, it's not hard to imagine the agony and devastation you'd feel if the unthinkable ever happened. Think what it would be like for your character. It's your voice that will come through your character's thoughts and actions. Your unique imagination is what breathes life into the people in your stories. When you share your character's lives, they become a part of you and are therefore more real.

The external traits of your character are the easy part; that's just their two-dimensional persona like height and weight, hair and eye color, favorite food, favorite movie, etc. To make them 3-dimensiona, you have to go deeper to learn why they say and do the things they do. What are their politics? Religeous beliefs? Relationships with family? Do they hate their parents? Why? And what happened in their lives that caused them to disrespect authority? Or to donate every hard-earned cent to charity? What caused their fear of heights? What's at the root of who they are? The answers to these questions not only make the character interesting, but enable you to speak with your character's voice, which translates directly onto the page and makes your story real.

Your characters are not you. They're from a subconscious part of yourself so don't hold back when you create who might be your polar opposite. Open your mind and set free the serial killers, vampires, Victorian prudes, heavy-weight boxers, stoic accountants, and all those other folks living within the dark recesses of your mind. You may feel liberated by the experience.

When you become your character, you let his or her actions and reactions drive the plot. Though you as the writer hold the reigns, your character's behavior steers the way. Allow his or her instincts to guide the plot forward.

Now for your assignment:

You have two totally different characters in the same scene, which is a Star Trek Fan convention. These characters are very different from each other, yet they're in the same place, and they're seeing, hearing and smelling the same things. Their perceptions will be totally different. They probably don't even have the same vocabulary. One of them could be from another country, or another planet. Ha! Different gender, different attitude, different background, sky's the limit.

Now that you know who your two characters are, write a paragraph for each, from their point of view, about what they're experiencing at this Star Trek Fan convention. They each have their own unique voice, which is an extension of your voice.

I'll start. Check the comments section for my example.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Exercise

No, not that kind; remember, I hate to sweat.

This is a writing exercise. You can choose to ignore it or do it, either way it's fine with me. I still have a house full of company, sick kids, (three of them are sick now) and not much time to spend on blogging until the weekend is over; however, it's my turn to blog, so here's the scenario...

Two men, best friends. One woman, fiance to one of the men. The one man that's the fiance is leaving for a year. You choose where he's going, how he's getting there, and the reason he's leaving both his fiance and best friend behind. He asks his best friend to watch over the woman and he asks the woman to watch out for the best friend, neither of them know he wants them to watch over the other. (did that make sense?)

The best friend has been injured and is still in a healing stage, you choose the injury and the stage of wellness. The best friend is a wild heart, that's how he was injured, recklessness, the man leaving is conservative, quiet, kind and loving; the woman has chosen to go the safe route all her life, in all things, including marriage or the men she chooses. Now the wild heart and the safe chooser are left alone to take care of one another because of their love and devotion to the man leaving. What will happen?

You choose the time period, setting, conflict, etc. Write a blurb for the back of a book or a few paragraphs for fun. Make it shorter or longer depending on what you feel is necessary. Just go with what comes to you. There's no right or wrong. This is just an exercise. I'll try to have my version done on Sunday. There's no rush because we're all kinda busy with family, sick kids, shopping, etc. If you have no interest in doing this exercise, skip it. No biggie. ;)

Sorry this is a cop-out blog. I'm just sorta swamped. :) I'm really looking forward to what you come up with though.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Turkey Day!




Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Layering Conflict

Layering the conflict will make your story richer, deeper, more realistic. Adding layers isn't difficult. Think of each of your characters lives in parts:

- The personal
- The interpersonal
- The societal

Now, give them conflict in each of these arenas.

On a personal level, put them in conflict with themselves about something. Do they hate the way they are attracted to the other person? Are they lying to achieve their goal for some reason and really hate it? Do the obligations of their head conflict with the wishes of their heart? Any of these scenarios will work. And if it's done well, it can provide additional motivation for the next layer of your conflict, the interpersonal.

The interpersonal conflict is that of the hero and heroine clashing with each other. This is where your internal conflict comes into play.

If your hero is a brain surgeon who has fallen for a patient and he is the one to tell her she may not pull through the surgery. You have the personal (he's fallen in love with a patient - unethical) and the interpersonal (he has to tell her she could die)

Screenwriters use something called Point and Counterpoint. In other words, you must find situations to both prove and disprove your hero and heroine's beliefs throughout the book. This helps you develop internal conflict within the character himself. He can't decide if he's been wrong, possibly too harsh. Just when he's vacillating, you give him another story reason to cling to his belief, though maybe in a slightly altered way, so your conflict is back. If you do this, you have an external reason to argue, an internal clash between your hero and heroine, as well as the character fighting himself for the truth. This gives you good pacing and story depth.

The societal is often where the external conflict comes into play. Or actions by one character force the other to make choices that either put them in conflict with themselves, with their family/friends/society at large--or both. These are big, meaty conflicts and can really thread your internal and external together well.

The patient didn't die on the operating table, but she has been put on life support. Now the hero has not only his own feelings and conscience to deal with, but that of society as well. Should he pull the plug or is there a chance she will get better? And if she gets better will she want him when he had contemplated pulling the plug?

If you take a look at your writing, do you use all three conflicts in your stories? Did you do it because you'd heard of this layering before, or do you use it instinctively?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sacrifices

I've been reading some of the writers loops lately and the common theme among all of them seems to be this idea of strategies for writing through the holidays. A lot of writers admit to being less productive this time of year - guests visiting, holiday shopping, parties, festivities. I've heard several say, "I take the month of December off. I just can't focus on writing." Makes sense, doesn't it?

If you answered yes, let me ask you this question...would you take the entire month of December off from your "other" job? Maybe it's the one that pays the bills right now. For me it used to be teaching. Man, I can't tell you how many times I would have loved to take December off when I was teaching simply because my life was too busy to focus on school. Did I? NO! I'd have been fired on the spot. Right now, my "other" job is being a stay at home mom - chauffeur, cook, house cleaner, laundromat, teacher (still) and playmate (and not of the Playboy variety, let me tell you). Would I like to take December off from all of that? You betcha. Sorry, honey, It's December. Things are too busy for me right now. I can't cook or clean or watch the kids. You'll have to figure it out on your own.

Silly, huh? You betcha. Every time I read about a writer who says they just can't write during the holidays because they're too "busy", I'm reminded of the fact writing boils down to priorities. How bad do you want this? What are your writing goals? Do you look at writing as a job or simply a hobby? A hobby is something you can drop and pick up and move past. A job is something you take seriously. You work at it, every day. You set goals and strategies to reach those goals. You make sacrifices to get to your goals. And you don't toss it to the side just because you're busy.

Writing isn't a hobby for me. It's a priority. Right now I have a houseful of sick people. I'm not only doing all the jobs I listed above, I'm also nursemaid at the moment. It's draining. It's exhausting. It's not a fun additional job. But have I stopped writing because I'm extra busy? Nope. If anything I've written more. I've made additional sacrifices in my day so I'm sure to squeeze in that writing time. Do I write during the holidays? Yep. Always. Because this is my job. I might not be getting paid for it yet, but the key word in that phrase is yet. It will happen because I'm determined and because I've made sacrifices to get to my goals.

So here are the big questions for today - What is writing to you? Hobby or job? What sacrifices have you made to get to your goals? And finally, will you write through the holidays???

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Writing Through the Rain

This has to be one of the hardest times of year to be a writer--particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, where many of us face several months of rain and mud before the sun reappears in the Spring. Add in family commitments, the holidays, travel, and general winter malaise and you've got a recipe for a major league writer's block.

Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. Some writers thrive on the winter--being holed up with their laptop and experience a surge in productivity as the temperatures drop. Some find winter endlessly inspiring. Other writers may find that summer is too jammed with activities and other interests to fully focus on their craft. (If this is you, please don't stop reading here! Share your tricks in the comments. I want to hear from the winter-lovers too!)

As a group, writers are more susceptible to depression, seasonal affective disorder, and other mood disturbances which can take a toll on writing. Even the winter "blues" can make writing seem like a chore, decrease confidence, and let negative self-talk cut you off from your work. So how do you keep this from happening? How can you invigorate your winter writing?

Here are some ideas:
  • Get a sun lamp. If winter is typically a hard time of year for you, or you have diagnosed SAD, depression, or another mood disorder, your insurance may cover a sun lamp. Even they don't, you can find reasonably priced models, and they are well worth the investment
    • Poor man's sun lamp: Turn on all lamps as soon as you wake up. All rooms should be as bright as possible for the first 30 minutes to an hour of wake-up. Replace dim bulbs with bright, energy efficient bulbs.
    • Combine your sun lamp with coffee/breakfast to set a routine.
  • Move the time of day that you write--even if you are a confirmed night owl, if you're not productive at night, or experience a greater energy dip during the winter, you may want to try experimenting with different times of day.
  • Use setting to distract you.
    • Give your characters a tropical retreat. Do research on the locale. Post sunny pictures for inspiration. Drink fruity drinks. Play summery music. Go all out. Plot an itinerary for your characters with expedia or travelocity.
    • Alternatively, work with your surroundings: holiday stories, cold and wet wintery nights, snowy settings.
  • Make your writing space the most inspiring to you
    • Perhaps you need a snug, warm space--lots of quilts, hot tea, small space heaters for your feet, jewel tones
    • Or maybe, like me you need to pretend that it's not winter. Last year, I resolved not to spend another winter depressed and hating the grey weather. I got the sun lamp prescription, but I also coupled that with a re-do of my office, planning for this time of year. The cost was minimal: a few cans of paint, some e-bay finds, and a trip to TJ Maxx. The result: Amazing. You can see pictures here.
    • Maximize your light in your writing space. Add additional lights just for the winter if you need to.
  • Get out of Dodge. Plan your vacation for the winter if possible. Hit some winter conferences in sunny states. Plan a research trip/speaking engagement/book signing in a sunnier place.
  • Eat well. An over-abundance of holiday eating can lead to a shortage of brain power. 45 minutes of exercise plus 3 balanced meals a day can work as well as anti-depressant medication for many mild mood disorders. Potatoes, Not Prozac is an excellent starting point. The mood cure is another good resource.
  • Don't give writing the short shift. It's easy to over-commit during the holidays or to get wrapped up in gift-making/shopping. If you loose momentum when your focus shifts to other things, make an added effort to plan ahead. Shop early (I like to look for small clearance items year-round and add them to my "gift closet."). Delegate tasks. If you need to jettison a few side-dishes to keep your daily goals, no one will notice. Don't agree to host 30 people just because you're "home." Stand up for your writing!
  • Open your document every day. Every single day. This has made a world of difference for me. Commit to do this for yourself. Even if you just write a sentence then return to cookie baking or succumb to procrastination, you can still feel good about your forward momentum.
  • Enter winter contests. Give yourself deadlines and realistic goals.
In closing, I'd like to say that not all "writer's blocks" are created equal. Alice did a terrific post on different types of blocks and how to deal. But, sometimes a block or a major dip in productivity can signal something more serious: SAD, a major depression, an illness. If the above suggestions don't help you, or you find yourself lacking the motivation/ability to try--the problem is NOT you. I repeat--IT IS NOT YOU. Writing is not always about willpower or trying hard enough. The writing life IS a hard life--but you should NOT have to be miserable. Whether you're miserable and writing or miserable about not writing, don't be afraid to seek outside help. Getting help enabled me to overcome a block that lasted almost 9 months.

Help is out there. For more on writing and depression see here and here and here. If you think you may have SAD check out this questionnaire. This depression questionnaire can help you decide whether to seek additional help. Finally, if you know another writer who is suffering right now, I wrote this piece on how to be a friend to someone suffering from depression.

Now it's your turn! What tips do you use to keep writing during the winter? Does your productivity shift with the seasons? Do you love the rain? Hate it? Does writing take a backseat during the holidays for you? Have you used setting to distract you before? Speak up! Share what works (and report back on what doesn't).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Why?

Why do you write? What drives you?

It's not all fun and games, you know, and sometimes it's like beating your head against a rock because it feels so good when you stop, and yet we persevere. There is a whole world of people out there who do not write. Who think the thought of writing a story or a book sounds about as appealing as strolling through hell. So, why do YOU write?

I write because:

1.) Well, what else would I do with my time? Housework? I don’t think so.
2.) What would I do with the images I see, the feelings they provoke, the flashes of raw emotion that take my breath away? The people who are bent with age? The sunsets? The beautiful house at the end of the road? Kittens? Need? Guilt? The totally aqua water I found on Maui? My dog's cute face? Danita's baby's smile? My friends? The love of my husband? Loss? Bravery? Fear?
3.) And what would I do with the ideas that pop into my head? The looking out a car window and seeing decaying berry vines and thinking of that group of old men who formed a band, the Buena Vista Men's Club, I think, and what might it be like if it was a band of old women and one of them was missing? Stuff like that? What do other people do with these kind of thoughts?
4.) And, hello, do other people have these kind of thoughts? If not, in what form do their imaginations exist? None of you can tell me because you're all writers and your imaginations are probably much like mine. Although I do have a friend who sees patterns and colors everywhere. She makes quilts. So is that how other people see? Or just quilters?
5.) Besides, writing scratches an itch somewhere deep inside. An itch I can't label. Sometimes, an itch I wish I could shake.
6.) It's part of my identity. I am a wife, a mother, a grand mother. But I am also a writer and in those fleeting moments of doubt, I wonder what I would be if I wasn't also a writer. I have a friend who says it's very American to define yourself by your job. She insists that the English, for example, don't do this. I don't know if she's right, all I know is that when I say I am a writer it goes deeper than how I spend my days, how I spend my life. How I make a little money. How I fill a few hours. How I interpret the events of my life and share them in ways few people are privileged to do. Deeper.

So, why do you write?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Polling

I know, elections are over in the real world. But let's do some polling in Writing World. No, this isn't a cop-out because I forgot it was my day to blog *grin*.

I have some questions for you, it's to help the blog contributors on here know what the readers of the blog are interested in hearing about. We want to be user friendly.

So, what do you want to read more about? The industry (agents, publishers, trends), the business side of writing, marketing and publicity, or writing craft. We'd love to hear specifics.

Do you like lecture style, lots of examples or the interactive lessons?

Also, tell us about you (yes, that includes the lurkers). Are you a writer or reader? Published or unpublished? Where are you from?

What book(s) have you read lately? What is your all-time favorite book or series? Who are some of your favorite writers?

Thank you for indulging my curiosity. I know more people visit the blog than who comment, and I'd love to find out who you are. I don't bite... Most of the time.

I'll start. Hi, my name is Lisa and I'm an unpublished paranormal romance writer from Salem, Oregon. I'd like to read more about the craft of writing. My next contribution will be about publicity (I do PR for my day job). I like the interactive lessons because it's fun to read what other people's brains come up with. Lately I've been reading my favorite series, J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood books. They are FANTASTIC (am I right, Elisabeth?). My favorite single book would have to be A Girl's Guide to Vampires by Katie MacAlister. That book got me started in reading and writing romance, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Your turn!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

More on Snappy, or not so Snappy Beginnings

Sorry to be obsessed with hooks, but I sometimes struggle for weeks on how to start a story, so I love to contemplate beginnings.

Short sentenced hooks are often effective, as Becky and Alice pointed out in an earlier blog. Take a look at this one, from Janet Evanovich's, "One for the Money", the first book in her popular Stephanie Plum series:

There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me -- not forever, but periodically.

In two short sentences, Evanovich establishes several things, most importantly, in my opinion, the voice of her work. We also know this book will have romantic elements (at least periodically) and that there is conflict just around the next page.

I love that beginning.

But now let's take a look at another option: Long, convoluted sentences. These can be surprisingly effective too. Check out this one, from Dean Koontz's "False Memory":

On that Tuesday in January, when her life changed forever, Martine Rhodes worke with a headache, developed a sour stomach after washing down two aspirin with grapefruit juice, huaranteed herself an epic bad-hair day by mistakenly using Dustin's shampoo instead of her own, broke a fingernail, burnt her toast, discovere ants swarming through the cabinet under the kitchen sink, eradicated the pests by firing a spray can of insecticide as ferociously as Sigourney Weaver wielded a flamethrower in one of those old extraterrestrial-bug movies, cleaned up the resultant carnage with paper towels, hummed Bach's Requiem as hse solemnly consigned the tiny bodies to the trash can, and took a telephone call from her mother, Sabrina, who still prayed for the collapse of Martie's marriage three years after the wedding. Throughout, she remained upbeat -- even enthusiastic -- about the day ahead, because from her late father, Robert "Smilin' Bob" Woodhouse, she had inherited an optimistic nature, formidable coping skills, and a deep love of life in addition to blue eyes, ink-black hair, and ugly toes.

Thanks, Daddy.


Wow. Does that paint a character, or what? I love this beginning too.

Can't you just picture this cheerful woman, humming, "dun, dun, duh-dun, dun, duh-dun, duh-dun, duh-dun" as she holds a paper towel loaded with dead ants out at arm's length? And don't you immediately like her? Isn't there anything that gets this woman down? This first paragraph hook makes me want to crawl inside Martie's skin, take a ride for awhile, and find out.

Effective beginning. Dang long first sentence.

And here's one that's in between (Yeah, right Danita, like you think you're in between Evanovich and Koontz, dream on...). As I was saying, before I so rudely interrupted myself, this is the opening of my current WIP (work in progress) which is romantic suspense. I've struggled with the beginning of this story for awhile. Paty took a look at it this past weekend at the retreat and suggested a starting point here. It might work. This morning I wrote this:

I'm not a believer in the supernatural, so when I whip into a parking space at the convenience store, almost hit a big black dog, and its eyes glow red when it looks at me, I say ridiculous, I must be seeing things. I unload my baby from her car seat, try to forget about the dumb dog and its stupid glowing eyes, and go on inside the Oregon Coast Speedy Mart.

To try to disect my own work -- which is hard -- what I hope that hook forshadows to the reader is that supernatural stuff is going to keep happening to this woman until she believes. And hopefully, they will want to go along with doubting Dianne on that journey into the unknown.

So there you have it. Short and snappy, long and winding, and somewhere in between.

How do you like to start your stories? What kind of beginnings do you like to read? What is it about a beginning that really hooks you into a book?

I don't have a writing challenge for you today. But I did post a pathetic, six-word story this morning in response to Karen's challenge yesterday.






Tuesday, November 14, 2006

To make a long story short

Okay, my first blog entry (deep breaths). I racked my brain trying to decide what to write about here since there are so many writing-related topics to choose from. So I decided to chat on something you don't hear much about on romance writing loops, blogs and forums. I'm talking about short stories.

"But I write novels!" I hear you say. "I can't use less than 10,000 words to write characters readers will actually care about." Oh, yes you can. And not only can you write a dynamic short story with deep characters and an emotionally engaging plot, you'll become a better writer in the process.

This past weekend I joined several of the lovely ladies from this blog for a writers retreat on the Oregon coast. While most everyone worked on her novels, I started a new short story that I'll submit to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Mistwillow anthology. That's what gave me the idea for this post. Not only did I have a marvelous time with my writer buddies, I got a lot out of the short-story writing experience.

So what are the benefits of writing short fiction? More than you'd think.

The satisfaction of writing THE END. When you're writing a novel, it seems to take forever to get through those 90,000 to 150,000 words before reaching the conclusion and typing THE END. With a short story, you can be done in a matter of days (depending on how fast you write and self-edit, of course).

Experiment with different sub-genres. No matter what genre you write, short stories are a great way to try out other genres and to experiment with combining different genres if the spirit moves you. You might find you have a talent for humor, horror, suspense, or maybe the paranormal, when you never would have attempted those genres in a longer form.

Discover your voice. Writing takes practice, and finding your voice takes more practice than anything. Get a few short stories under your belt and you're on your way to establishing that extra special something that makes you standout as a writer.

Strut your stuff. Yeah, baby. Show ‘em what you've got. No matter if you're published or unpublished, it behooves you to get your name out there and give the public a taste of your talent. Agents and editors catch wind of short work now and then that piques their interest, and how cool would it be for your short fiction to catch an important eye? It does happen. And word of mouth is a powerful thing.

Build a readership. You want readers to recognize your name so that when you're published in novel-length, they can say "Oh, yeah. I've read her stuff. She's awesome! I just gotta have her books!"

Practice makes perfect. Or at least it moves your writing in that direction. The more you write, the better you get, and writing short forces you to make every word count, which results in tight writing.

Financial compensation. Though not as lofty as it once was, there is income to be earned from writing short. Some ezines pay a token amount, printed magazines pay more, and anthologies are wonderful vehicles to help get you and your work noticed. The point of being published is getting your work read. And adding publishing credits to your queries makes you a more credible writer.

So who publishes short fiction? The market has dwindled over the years, but it's still strong. Special anthologies, like the one sponsored by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (an awesome organization for writers of novel-length fiction), are wonderful vehicles for getting your work in front of readers, agents and editors. And the shelf life of an anthology is bottomless. A printed book can last a lifetime.

My new publisher, The Wild Rose Press, is a great market for romantic short fiction, and they pay fair royalties. Do a Google search on short story markets and you'll find a plethora ripe for the querying. Few pay, but as I said earlier, it's the exposure and building a readership you should think about. Short stories can be a stepping-stone to something greater.

So if you were to write a short story, what would you write about? Would you expand on the story of a character from one of your novels? Try something new? Explore your voice? Impress an editor or agent trolling for new talent? The possibilities are practically endless.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Business of Writing

I went back and read other postings. Man, you guys are good! The pressure is on. I know this post must be fun, witty and/or inspiring. Why would someone who has never blogged get sucked into -- I mean, agree to be a guest blogger?
A) Peer pressure
B) I sold a book, so I'm supposed to be a "real" writer now
C) I ate beans for dinner
D) All of the above
(My apologies to Danita for shamelessly stealing her multiple choice format, but it worked so well!)

I've already shared my news that Awe-Struck E-books bought one of my manuscripts. It felt really good to know that a publisher saw something marketable in what I had written. The support of my fellow chapter members also felt good. Thank you for your congratulations and kind words.

Now I not only have stories to finish, but I'm stepping into the business side of writing. Selling has given me a kick in the motivation to submit a second manuscript and finish the third of these connected stories. However, in many ways, the business side comes easier for me. It's what I've done in other jobs for many years. The Web site I drafted months ago can go live with good reason. I can add "coming in 2008..." to my signature block.

And as I'm penciling a production schedule on my calendar, I remember what Chris Young mentioned at one of our chapter meetings: authors with e-publishing companies have much more involvement in the production of their book than authors with traditional print publishers. I like that involvement, but it means more time spent on the business side of writing.

Awe-Struck has a nice list of steps leading up to publication that appeals to my detail-oriented personality. (Yes, the same anal-retentive quality that enjoys plotting a book using a descriptive form for each scene, then providing a visual by tacking easel-sized pieces of paper around my office with color-coded sticky notes for each character and plot point.) I'm going to share some of those steps in hopes it will help you look ahead -- and so you can offer me suggestions on how to best deal with this process!

If you're doing your own cover as I am, Awe-Struck needs that cover six months before publication. I'll send it in early since this is my first time working with them. I've been looking closely at a lot of covers, analyzing what I like or don't like about them. I have a draft of my own cover done that I'm still tweaking, and I've asked another graphic designer friend to give me her impressions before I send it off.

Filling out an author information questionnaire is another step. The name, Web site, e-mail address are easy. My bio will take some finessing. What if I say something that offends my family? What if I sound dorky? Or flippant? Yeah, I'll be asking for feedback from all of you! And if you have suggestions on what to put in and what to leave out, please let me know.

I get to choose a cover quote and excerpt from my book. I like being able to do this, but do I have to choose only ONE part?

Books queries are sent to reviewers about four months before release. I can really relate to what Paty and Chris have shared recently on the loop about reviews. There's an uncertainty about sharing your "baby" with strangers. You can bet I'll be sending positive energy to all those reviewers.

Proofreading and final edits aren't worrisome, as I seem to have come to an agreement with commas early in my life. However, I need to watch those exclamation marks and dashes, as well as remember to schedule a block of time to get these done and not be working on a dozen other deadlines at the same time.

Online promotion by the publisher -- and by me! This is another area that I'm looking forward to. I took an awesome career planning workshop online last year taught by another detail-oriented person (are you seeing a pattern here?). So I'll dust off those notes and put some of her suggestions into action. I've been collecting ideas from other authors for years, and you can bet that I'm paying very close attention to every promo item I see. Not spending more money on promotion than I receive from royalties may be my biggest challenge!

Once the book is uploaded for sale, it's time to pop the cork on sparkling cider! I hope you will all join me!

But for now, butt in chair, hands on keyboard. It's time to write!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Getting to Know Your Characters

How do you get to know your characters?

Do you use a character profile sheet?
Do you interview them?
Do they just pop into your mind so you go for it, hoping they'll just "speak" to you as you type?
Do you base them on people you've known in your own life?
How do you get inside their head?
What process do you use to pull every little bit of your character's personality out so you can put their story into print?

I've tried the profile sheets, the interviews, the waiting, and using people I've known. At this point, I have no idea which method I like the best. I'm very curious to know what works for you though.

Also, I couldn't think of a darn thing to blog about this week and having to blog on the day I'm taking off for the coast just sucks.

So think about it and let's discuss how we get to know our characters so well.

Have a great weekend everybody and those of us who are at the beach without internet access expect those of you to make up the difference on this blog for the next few days! ;)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Editing - looking at it from two different worlds - sort of.

Here we go folks. If you don't like this, it's Bethany's fault! LOL

When I started my job as Associate Editor at Wild Rose Press, I was excited to be able to read and help writers. I've been critiquing numerous people and judging writing contests for years, so I felt I had enough knowledge to judge a good book and help hone writer's skills if need be.

It has been a learning experience for me as well. My personal first drafts are cleaner. And I don't overuse certain words any more.( I find new ones to overuse. LOL) I've also learned to detect early-on when something isn't quite right with the plot.

When I edit for Wild Rose Press, I use tracking changes. I like to make comments as I read through the first time. Blatant things I can't just let go - like the use of 'that' 14 times in three paragraphs, passive phrases, POV hopping, and the thing that really sets my teeth to grinding - not knowing the historical info. Those things I flag and comment on. I also add punctuation as I go and make notes on a piece of notebook paper about the plot and other items I feel the writer should work on.

If I notice the same things happening over and over again, I stop at the second chapter. Then send those chapters with the tracking changes, attached to an e-mail with my thoughts on what they should work on back to the writer. If the story or characters call to me, I ask them to fix the first three chapters and resend. I also ask them to fix those problems in the whole manuscript while I am re-reading the partial. These are all easy fixes.

The things that are some times harder to pinpoint and the ones that aren't as easy for writers to fix are: no chemistry between the hero and heroine, too many secondary characters that don't appear essential to the plot, love scenes that read like rape scenes (I just read one), and plot issues.
If a writer can't get these figured out or is reluctant to work on these issues, I won't work with them any more. It means they aren't willing to improve or they don't see the problem.

Now, you would think I could detach myself from my own work. Nope! Not so! Though I do catch myself on a lot of the small things as I am writing, there are still some things that I need another eye to see in my work that I don't. When you are in your story, you know everything - and unfortunately, you don't always write it all down for the reader. That I think is my biggest downfall. I don't see the blank spaces in my own writing, because I intuitively place it in the story and don't realize it is missing. I am getting better though at stepping back and viewing my work as something I haven't seen before, but we all need another person's eyes to catch things we may have read a hundred times and missed.

When reading other writers, I see the blanks, because I don't have a clue about anything other than what the writer has told me. So the blanks show up.

I do find, however, if I save the writing in another type of font, and I know this seems silly, but it makes the story look different and I notice things easier. Even some of the blanks.

What are your nemesis when editing? Or things you know you do and haven't programmed yourself for self-edit yet?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Great Agent Hunt

Bethany recently asked me if I was still giddy and excited whenever I said the words, "my agent". I have to be honest and say that the question kind of threw me when she asked it. I've been hesitant to talk about my agent because I didn't want to come across as a know-it-all - I'm not, and I don't want people to think that. However, several people have asked about my experience and how I finally landed an agent, so I thought I'd share that here.

The truth is Bethany's question isn't so easy to answer. Those of you who know me know it took me a long time to find an agent who loves my work. Two years almost to the day. Three manuscripts (which, by the way, were manuscripts 3, 4 and 5 in my manuscript history) - one I shopped for a year with several bites but ultimate rejections; one I sent to only five agents for a variety of reasons, but which netted me personal R's with great feedback, but R's nonetheless; and the third, which ended up snagging my agent. I am by no means an expert when it comes to the great agent hunt, and I don't pretend to be. I'm still somewhat in the honeymoon phase. So take what I say here with a grain of salt. However, I've learned a fair amount along the way, and I know hearing other writers' experiences helped me when it came time for me to look for an agent.

If you want to write single title and be pubbed by New York, you need to find an agent. Most of the NY houses will not even look at manuscripts from unagented writers. There are exceptions, and writers have sold to the big houses without an agent (I know of several) - but it's rare. It also takes longer. If a house accepts unagented queries, it has to be a kick-ass query to get a request. Then your requested manuscript will go into the slush pile, and you could wait months - even years, I've heard in some instances - to get a response. Agents get your work in front of editors faster, a lot of times they have personal relationships with editors and know which editors are looking for what stories, they know the tastes and personalities of certain editors and know who would like your books, and unless you're a lawyer (like Bethany) they understand contracts way better than you ever will.

I knew I wanted an agent, which is why my focus centered around the agent search instead of querying editors. I'm sure you've heard writers say it's harder to land an agent these days than it is to land an editor. I don't know if that's true because I never really went after any editors on my own, but I do know agents are busy people and the competition for their attention is fierce. Editors use agents as first readers, thereby weeding out the unpublishable material and reducing the number of manuscripts they're sent. And popular agents receive hundreds of queries per month. If you look at the odds of attracting attention from an agent, it can be depressing. I never thought about the odds of getting an agent or getting pubbed. And I still don't. It depresses me too much. All I can really control is the writing, so that's where I expend most of my energy.

So after all of my hardwork, years of waiting and endless frustrations, why wasn't I thrilled to finally have found an agent who loves my writing? Simple. Choosing an agent was the hardest thing I've done so far in my writing career. I was deathly afraid of making the wrong choice. Alice and Lisa and Becky can attest to that fact. The week after I received the offer for representation, I was a wreck. Over and over I'd heard a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. That a dream agent to one person might be a nightmare agent to the next. I was worried that only one agent would be interested, and I'd have no choice as to who to go with. Scared, that deep inside, I'd feel desperate and take the first offer that came along without even researching.

I happened to be lucky. Both of my critique partners signed with agents a full year before I did. I watched them both go through the honeymoon stage, through the working stage, through the frustration stage and everything in between. One of my CPs is still with the same agent and hasn't sold yet. The other was let go by her agent about eight months after she signed. Watching both of my friends was a learning experience for me. It showed me there were things I - as an unpubbed author - needed from my first agent. They might be different from a pubbed author, they might be different from my CPs, but they were things that were important to me, and things I didn't want to gloss over.

For me, the things that mattered most were:

1. That the agent had a proven sales record,
2. That he/she was currently making sales,
3. That he/she had a good reputation in the business,
4. That his/her business practices (ie, contract) were standard and consistent - nothing glaring,
5. That he/she was easy to communicate with,
6. That I felt comfortable asking newbie questions,
7. That he/she would offer editorial input and suggestions when asked,
8. That our personalities meshed,
and finally...
9. That he/she LOVED my work and would, therefore, be more apt to push it

One of the most difficult parts about choosing an agent is that you can ask all the questions you can think of upfront, but you'll never know how you and that agent will get along until you work together. That was my biggest fear. That I'd find a great agent, but then a month later it would all fall apart.

As it turned out, I ended up with four big agents interested in my book. The one I signed with was the least well known of all four and had the smallest agency. That was her only drawback. However, big names don't always mean great agents, and I've heard horror stories about well-known agents who weren't doing the work for their clients. I spent a week doing my research, and everything else I discovered about my agent was exactly what I was looking for. Am I happy I signed with her? Yes. Absolutely. She's been a great sounding board for me so far, and I know I can ask her anything without feeling like a complete idiot. I know the other agents would have been great too, but for me, right now, this was the best fit. Time will tell if my book sells, but so far I've been happy with the partnership.

If you're in the market for an agent, there are a few things I'd advise you to do:

1. Make a list of your top ten agents. Query them. Don't assume you won't get them because they're so-and-so's agent or because they're so big. One of the agents interested in my book was a BIG NY agent I never in a hundred years thought I could entice.
2. Be open to other agents. My agent wasn't on my top ten list because I didn't know about her when I made that list, but I'm glad I decided to query her.
3. Make a list of what you want in your dream agent. Stick to it. Don't sign with someone just because they're the only one who's looking at you. Don't sign with them just because they're a big name. Be sure the agent you pick is going to be the one you want.
4. Find someone who loves your work. By loves, I mean LOVES your work. If they're only lukewarm on your writing, they aren't going to be working as hard for you as if they love it. I knew my agent loved my work because she emailed me at 1 AM the night she finished reading the ms, told me if it hadn't been the middle of the night she'd be on the phone with me right that minute. As it was, she was giving me a heads up she'd be calling me in the morning. She followed through and called at 8:30 AM. And her biggest fear was that I'd already signed with someone else. Knowing how much she loved my book tipped my decision in her favor.
5. DO YOUR RESEARCH. So important. Don't just sign because you're giddy and excited someone's finally offered representation. Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and search the agent's sales, check Preditors and Editors for any warnings, talk to other writers on loops and in person about what they've heard about the agent in question. Contact clients of that agent and ask them how they like working with him/her. You'll learn a lot by doing your research.

If you're wondering what kinds of questions to ask an agent, you can find a list here. Charlotte Dillon also has a wealth of articles on finding and landing an agent on her website. Check it out.

Before I had an agent, I told my critique partner I often felt like I was standing outside on a sidewalk peering in the front window of a grand hotel. Inside were all my friends, milling around the lobby, drinking champagne, laughing and chatting as they waited for the elevator to take them upstairs. Several other friends were on the first floor balcony peering down. Others the second or third. And still others - like Alice - up on the thirty-third (or higher) floor with a smile on their faces. I wanted to be inside that hotel - anywhere inside - but no matter how many times I pounded on the glass, no one let me in.

It's easy to feel down when those R's are rolling in, and it's easy to think about giving up, that you'll never get to your goal. Rejections - from agents or editors - hurt, but it's a fact of life in this business. The best advice I can give you is to expect rejection, to open each self-addressed envelope with the thought that it's just another R, so that you aren't disappointed when it happens. Then when it turns out to be a request, it brightens your day. That's what I did, and it's how I got through the nearly 70-agent rejections I compiled over the years (I'm not actually sure how many I got, but I'm willing to bet that's close considering how thick my file is). When I received a rejection I immediately sent out another query. I always wanted to have at least five circulating to up my odds.

Do I have the perfect situation? No. I'm still learning, but I hope some of my experiences are helpful to you in your agent search. Do I expect to sell right away? No. Like finding an agent, it'll happen when it happens. Will I be with my agent a year from now? I have no idea. I hope so, but time will tell how we work together. Do I think I'll stay with the same agent for my career? No one knows. Most writers go through several. Some stay with their first. It all depends on your needs at different stages of your career.

If you have an agent experience - good or bad - I'd love to hear about it. Are you in the market for an agent? Why or why not? And if so, what do you expect out of an agent?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tackling Dialogue

I fully admit to being selfish with this topic. I LOVE to write dialogue, I LOVE to read dialogue, but I find it the HARDEST thing to edit. So, this is as much about picking everyone's brains about dialogue as it is about educating.

Why have dialogue?

Unless your target market is literary fiction, you NEED dialogue and lots of it. Dialogue creates tension, moves your story along, develops your characters, but most importantly, it's FUN to read.

Consider the following passage from Lori Foster's Say No to Joe? :

"I can't imagine too many people dumb enough to take you on."

Joe gave a wolfish grin. "Yet you never hesititate."

Afronted by the suggestion that she might be dumb, Luna said, "I believe I've avoided you."

Now imagine that same passage with: Luna avoided Joe. She wasn't dumb enough to take him on.

All the sizzle is gone! Sans dialogue she seems grumpy instead of sassy, and we don't get any hint of the chemistry between them.Dialogue lets readers get inside each character's head without head hopping. This important. The above scene is in Joe's POV, but we learn so much about Luna without any whiplash.

In first person books, dialogue is absolutely essential. Consider this example from Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson:

"Hey doll, welcome to the club."

I stepped into the church yard and craned my neck to look up at him. "Hi, Sam. And thanks. I'm looking foward to it. I think."

"Oh don't worry about it. You'll do great. They're good people and they need you, so they'll treat you right. You picked a good time to join, too. Things are about to get interesting."

Now imagine: I walked home and worried about whether I had made the right decision.

None of the same energy. Piper would open a can of telling-not-showing whoopass all over such a passage. The quoted passage avoids this trap by having the character have a conversation with a Gargoyle. Yes, a gargoyle. A minor secondary character, but the dialogue reveals his personality far better than any description AND imparts essential information--Things are about to get interesting. The narrator couldn't learn that on her own. The key lesson here is have your character talk to SOMEONE. Anyone. Even a gargoyle.

What makes good dialogue?

* It's snappy. Dialogue needs to be fast paced, with fairly quick exchanges. Monologues don't usually work on paper. Even Shakespeare used them sparingly.
* It's true to the voice of each speaker. An Ozark woman is not going to speak like a New Yorker even if you don't use any vernacular.
* It's easy to follow. As a reader, there is nothing I hate more than not knowing who is speaking or having a conversation start, stop for a long information dump, then resume 10 pages later. It's like having someone walk away and come back 20 minutes later and want to continue the conversation.
* It keeps the same POV during the dialogue. Head hopping within a single scene of dialogue is not for the faint of heart. Clearly show the shift if you do this.
* It tells us something. Don't show us what they ordered for dinner or recount the conversation with the valet. The Enchanted, Inc. example works because the seemingly mundane conversation actually contains a lot of foreshadowing. Dialogue needs to serve a purpose.
* It's easy to read. It doesn't overwhelm readers with vernacular. It doesn't contain endless "said" and "bookisms." The reader should flow seamlessly through the dialogue--it should never slow a scene down unless you have a VERY good reason for doing so.

Now for the hard part, How do you format dialogue?

I suck at this. Seriously. But here are the basics as I understand them:

* Each speaker gets a new paragraph which is indented
* You can't have two speakers in a single paragraph.
* Dialogue tags get commas, actions get periods.
* Click here for more on basics of formating

Questions on Dialogue

Once you have the basic formatting down, things get trickier.

Next set of examples are all from my WIP.

Leading with action is fine right? But what if both sides of the dialogue are bracketed with action. Is that still okay?

Instead, he looked away and studied my IV line. "It hurts. You're hurt." He looked up at me, big brown eyes which reflected the same fear that had plagued me for weeks.

Should there be a new paragraph after "hurt" ??? This is the type of formatting issue that drives me nuts.

What do you do with a complex set of action and dialogue? Different authors seem to treat this differently:

"Oh Lou! Ouch, indeed! That IV's coming loose." Carol looked more pained than I felt. She scurried around and grabbed a stack of gauze from a side table. "Here--goodness knows when the nurses will get back to you--we'll just fix it in the meantime. Did you know that I was a nurse's aide way back when?"

She chattered and before I knew what happened, she removed the dangling IV needle and pressed the gauze over dripping hole. "I bet that feels better doesn't it?" She wound the tubing back over the rack.

I've seen some authors tack long descriptions on after dialogue and others break to a new paragraph for even a sentence or two of description. When you are mixing dialogue and description how do you know when to break?

If the POV character is reacting to something the speaker just said, should that be a new paragraph---I've seen authors do it both ways.

My number one goal in formatting dialogue is to avoid distraction---I don't want any obvious formatting errors that take away from what is being said. But, knowing WHAT is distracting to an editor is half the battle.

What makes dialogue work for you? What dialogue do's and don'ts can you add? And most importantly, what formatting issues do you struggle with? Do you have any good resources for formatting dialogue beyond the basic comma, period, new speaker issues? PLEASE share.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Writing Challenge

I SEE, YOU SEE

I was driving with a non-writing friend one day when a woman driver turned in front of me. Our eyes met. Her expression changed. She sped on. I said to my friend, "Man, she was embarrassed, wasn't she?" My friend said, "Are you serious? She gave you a look that said, "Up yours!"

Huh?

Same situation, same woman, same expression, same time, same universe, completely different interpretations.

I attended a small workshop one day where the speaker posed a challenge to the audience. "We all write differently even when we write about the same subject," she said (more or less. Hey, I have a memory like Swiss cheese. I'm paraphrasing here…) "For instance," she continued. "I'll give you a short scenario and you write a short scene." She proceeded to give us the scenario, we all wrote our little hearts out (and btw, I suck at this kind of thing) and then she had two or three brave souls read what they'd written. All were different from each other and from what I had written. Not the set up so much as what we all did with it. Her point was not to worry that you get ideas from stories in the media, etc… that in the end, you put a spin on everything to make it yours.

Let's give it a try. I'll give you a scenario. I'll then write my take but I'll position it down the page, out of sight. Don't peek! When you access the comment page to write your own, hit the button that condenses comments or just make yourself focus only on your own little comment square. Make it a single paragraph if you can, and don't spend more than three or four minutes. Post it. Then read what other people have written. Let's see if it works!

This blog will end after I give you the scenario so there is no point in looking any further until you've allowed your own imagination free reign and if you are curious, you can see what I wrote. To be equitable, I will follow my own rules and make it short and sweet and not spend a lot of time honing every detail. And I wrote this whole blog before Danita tapped in on my idea (unknowingly) with the "finish this blog chit lit idea." Hey Danita, great minds, huh? Give it a try. Don't be intimidated. There's no right or wrong…

Okay, here comes the scenario:

A man stands on a bluff. A woman walks on the beach down below. The sky is cloudy. . .
GO!




Don’t look

Don't peek

Give it a try

Don't be a sneak…

STOP! WRITE YOUR OWN FIRST PARAGRAPH!

I'm a poet and I know it

because my feet are

Long fellows…

Okay, you ready? You wrote your own?


The scenario:

A man stands on a bluff. A woman walks on the beach down below. The sky is cloudy. . .


Jasmine stood naked in the moonlight, warm water lapping over her toes, moonlight flickering over her ripe, bare body as clouds chased each other across the sky. Some sort of premonition made her turn. Pushing aside strands of windblown hair, she gazed toward the ridge where a silhouette appeared and disappeared in an instant. Chase! Even now, he was on his way, trampling ginger and fern in his headlong flight to reach her! In the next heartbeat she dove into the water, her only avenue of escape the wide Pacific ocean.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Birthday wishes and favorite heroes


Happy birthday, Elisabeth! Here's to the words leave your fingertips at 100 WPM; your synopsis be a piece of cake; your husband hiring a full-time nanny; and an auction producing a lucrative 3-book contract!

You got off easy girlie. I couldn't believe you scheduled me to blog on your birthday. I'm feeling generous today. You're lucky all I did was put this sexy guy up ;-)


Ok, I'll throw one more up. It's festive, she's drinking wine!
















Okay, on to the writing stuff. I want to know what are qualities you like in a hero.

Drop dead gorgeous or a little scarred, a little different but gorgeous to you

Ripped muscles like a body builder or built, but not a lot of definition

Take-charge alpha male or sensitive, accomodating beta male or a little of both in a gama male

Take a prominent role having just as much POV as the heroine or a secondary role to the heroine because it's her story

Do you want to love the hero from page one or do you want him to be a jerk at first and grow to love him

Are your favorite book heroes similar to the men you like in real life or do you tend to want heroes in books to be different from men you're drawn to in life

I don't like men that are prettier than me. I like them to be someone I would think is attractive, not like Brad Pitt who everyone finds gorgeous. I don't like a lot of muscle definition. I like men thick and bigger than me, not a body builder. I like a gamma male who takes charge when he needs to, but isn't afraid to be sensitive when the time calls for it. When I read, I like there to be as much if not more hero story than heroine. But I tend to write more for the heroine's story (I'm trying to change that). Generally, I prefer to grow to love the hero over time. I love the redeemable factor of jerk heroes. I also like to read about heroes that are similar to a man I'd want in life because I can more easily put myself in the heroine's shoes and live vicariously through her romantic exploits and great sex.

The purpose of this post is to get you thinking about what you like to read in heroes. I think the best books are when writers write about heroes they like to read. I also wanted to see how different people's opinions are. You can't write for what you THINK the reader wants to see. You have to write a story that you'd want to read. It will turn out better that way.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Try Some Chick Lit on for Size

  • Chick Lit: What is It, Do You Have It, and Is It Dead?

    Chick lit is all about attitude.

    Okay. Got it. But what, exactly, is it?

    That's a good question. Simply put it's literature. By chicks. For chicks. And if you're a woman, but hate being called a chick, you probably won't like reading or wirting chick lit either.

    But that's only a guess. Here's an example, just in case:


    Corri Jacobs hated her breasts. In disbelief, she watched other women pay dream-vacation prices to have their chest enlarged. They were crazy. Corri would gladly give them some of her own breast tissue, if the technology were available -- and didn't incolve sharp objects piercing her skin. Shoot, she had spare enough to make two of the flattest A-cup girls happy. But uncut, Corri's breasts didn't elate other women. Corri saw the narrowed female eyes when men gawked at her boobs. And therein lay the problem. Not the jealousy -- although she hated that too -- but the staring. Just once she wanted a man to first search the windows to her soul, before his gaze lodged between the demure neckline of her blouse and the waistbabnd of her jeans.

    Just once Corri wished a man would look deeper than her double Ds.


    I wrote that example as a parody, hoping to catch your attention, although it's not far off the mark. Chick lit is written with attitude, but not necessarily with bad attitude. Rather, chick lit stories are told with honest, upfront, and yes, I admit, sometimes in-your-face attitude.

    Chick lit doesn't have to be about body image, or sex (although it sometimes is) or even romance (although it often is). It doesn't always contain bold language or humor (although it can, and often does). To qualify, it only has to be about a woman's self-journey, told with -- you guessed it -- attitude.

    Chick lit can involve any of the things other women's fiction involves. Namely relationships -- between mothers and daughters, between friends, or between a man and woman.

    I like chick lit. Much of it, anyway. But when I hear people putting it down, I don't often step up to defend it. I don't particularly care if you like it or not. It's your prerogative either way.

    See? Attitude. Which is why my writing voice lends itself so well to chick lit style, although I don't label my work as such.

    At least not anymore.

    Like every fad, chick lit hit hard and hit fast. Last year it seemed I'd read weekly about another sale by a member of the RWAs Chick Lit Writer's of the World online loop. Some of the deals were even made at auction. The pink-covered books flew off the store shelves. At Nationals, 2005, in Reno, our chick lit group rocked. The chapter party was a buzz of good news, awards, and champagne toasts, with many big-name agents and editors in attendance. The awards banquet was peppered with names of chick lit writers.

    But all things must come to an end. Or at least evolve. And it seems chick lit's time for change has arrived. Which is a good thing. When a genre is forced to grow, it makes for better books. And we all want better books. We want to read them and we want to write them. So the endless stories about shopping, shoe fetishes, and young women's struggles to find decent men and satistactory sex in urban areas areas are a dying breed, yes. And for that, I say thank goodness.

    But chick lit itself is not dead.

    It had grown slowed, expanded. Moved across genre lines to encompass romantic suspense, romantic comedy, mystery, inspirational and YA.

    So, I think it bears repeating: CHICK LIT IS NOT DEAD -- even if the label itself is dying.

    I don't believe chick lit attitude will ever die.

    At least I know mine won't.


    What do you think? Do you think chick lit is dead? Do you love it, or hate it? What are some of your favorite chick lit books and authors?


    And as for Corri Jacobs, the poor dear with gigantic bosoms, do you think she'll:

    A) meet a blind man who will first love her for who she is, and then discover, much to his brail delight, that her cups runneth over?

    B) meet an ass man?

    C) swallow her fear, go under the knife, get a breast reduction and live happily ever after?

    D) do none of the above?


    If you answered D, you win! You winner, you're a winner. We love you, you're a winner. (That little ditty was your only prize. Sorry for the let down).

    Try your own hand at chick lit. Write a mini-short ending for Corri's story, and share with us. Remember to breathe, relax and have fun with it!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hook Me

By now, we've all heard about the importance of an opening hook, right; however, what is it and why do we, as writers, need to use one?

Well, because. Those are the rules. So do it.

Ha! No. I'm kidding. Rules of fiction writing are made to be broken, but an opening hook is mega important!

All-righty then, let's get started...An opening hook is that first sentence, or at least the first few sentences, in the opening scene of your story that immediately draws the reader in and "hooks" them. Like a big ol' fish, they can't get away, but I imagine it's much less painful for the reader than the fish.

Your main goal, as the awesome writer we all know you are, is to entice the reader so they will buy your book(s). Writing an expressive narration about the smell of gingerbread cookies, fresh from the oven, probably won't do the trick, unless said reader is really hungry; and in that case, they should've stopped by the local bakery before hitting the bookstore. Really, what the reader is looking for is character involvement, and since fiction novels are about characters, not smells emitted from baked gingerbread, this is what your opening should be about.

So dear writer, start your novel with something that piques a readers interest.

Here are some examples of novels that hooked me...

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas

Prologue, London, November 1836
"What is your preferred style, Miss Briar? Would you prefer your man to be fair-haired or dark? Average height or tall? English or foreign?"

The opening hook of the first chapter of this book reads:
Amanda knew exactly why the man on her doorstep was a prostitute.

This cracks me up! First, she orders a man like a slab of meat then the tasty morsel shows up on her doorstep! This is a Regency romance. This kind of thing wasn't something that would have been done on a regular basis, if at all. So what's a perfectly respectable woman doing ordering up a man as if he's a fresh piece of meat from her local butcher? Do you see how this particular opening hook sucked me in? If not, here's more...

Marshal in Petticoats by Paty Jager
Galena, Oregon 1886
"What kind of bullets does this take?" Darcy Duncan cradled a shiny, new rifle in her arms.

Hmm...Why the heck would a woman of 1886 need a new, shiny rifle? And if she doesn't even know what kind of bullets it takes, who would be stupid enough to let her handle one? Well, it turns out the idiot behind the counter doesn't realize she's a girl and she ends up accidentally shooting someone and being made town Marshall because of her great shot. See, it pulls you in.

Here's another example...

An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Everyone knew that Sophie Beckett was a bastard.

(Yeah, I read a lot of Regency and Historical romance.)

Being a bastard was a HUGELY BAD THING back in the Regency Era. So how and why does everyone know Sophie Beckett's a bastard; and are they okay with this? I'm an inquiring mind; I wanted to know. As a side note: Here's a little info about me...this book, An Offer From A Gentleman, is the novel that got me started reading romance. Yep, clear back in 2001 I found this book at Target and I couldn't put it down after that hook. It's the reason I'm a part of RWA and why I'm an aspiring writer now. All because I wanted to know why everyone knew Sophie Beckett was a bastard. This opening hook changed my life, before this book, I didn't know anything about romance novels. Well, that's not entirely true, I had read a few of my grandmother's Silhouette Romances when I was a teenager in 1984, but I hadn't read one again until 2001. That's a long time, and so much has changed. Sorry, I tend to get sidetracked. Anyhoo...

I love anything Scottish and IMHO, Shannon Drake has some of the best Scottish Historical stories out there. This is my favorite book...

Knight Triumphant by Shannon Drake

They were surely madmen.
From the hill, Igrainia could see the riders coming.
They flew the flags of Robert the Bruce.
They had to be mad.

Why would Igrainia think the riders were mad for carrying flags of Robert the Bruce? Does she not support the Scots in the fight against the English? Who is she to think Scotsmen are mad? Oh yeah, prove to me they're mad, was my first thought.
Turns out this is my most favorite hero and heroine of all the books I've ever read. I relate to Igrainia on every level. She's a stubborn, prideful woman with an iron will. The hero, Eric, well, he's amazing in so many different ways. A great read if you like strong women, alpha male heroes, and history made real and interesting.

All of these stories hooked me for different reasons, but the common thread was change. The characters in these stories experience change in one-way or another, some more significant than others, but change nonetheless. It's your job to arouse the reader's curiosity so that when they flip open that first page and read the those first sentences, they absolutely have to know more about what the character is doing and why.

The most important point I'd like to make about opening hooks is this: Your best friend may be the first to read your story and honestly think it's fabulous from the first sentence to the last, but the most important reader, who can make or break you with your lovely story is going to be an editor. Yep, an EDITOR. And editors are extremely busy people who have lives other than to serve as your adoring fan. I know this may come as a shock. Perhaps I should have made sure you were sitting down. Sorry. My bad. But seriously, what I'm trying to say is you have a very small window of opportunity when your story is in front of an editor; if your opening hook sucks, the editor won't even read past the first paragraph; and you, dear writer pal, won't get that coveted contract, let alone a detailed rejection letter. Editors simply have no time for crap. So, hook them with action, emotion, and compelling characterization that causes questions to pop into their curious minds, making it impossible for them to not turn the page and find all the answers.

What hooks you?

Happy Hooking!
Piper