Monday, January 31, 2011

Complete Characters

A couple of weeks ago I read a wonderful post on the Blood Red Pencil about combining characters and why an editor may ask an author to do this. It really got me thinking because as you all know I have a big thing for "character" and doing it right.

It's my belief that this happens when the author has not flushed out her supporting characters fully enough. An easy thing to do as we spend so much time on our MC, plot, world, and a million other things that go in to creating a seamless piece of art. Say we have a character that is (we feel) necessary, but not "on stage" very much. (Sorry my theater obsession is showing again).

Anyway, say we have this character, and she's - oh I don't know - a mermaid. Her purpose in your manuscript is to be a beautiful temptation to the merman the MC is after. So she's pretty, but not much in the brains department. Just a device to make your MC realize she's jealous and must have actual feelings for her fishguy. So do you need to spend time really thinking about Mermaid Girl? Is this a waste of time and energy? Bzzz! You better believe you need to do that. Otherwise, guess what? The reader will see it as what it is. A device. Your mermaid is no better than the brainless blond bimbo stereotype with a tail.

Here are a couple of tips you can use to get in that mermaid's head:

1. Write a page or two from her perspective.
See what makes her tick. Why is she coming on to this guy? What does she think of the girl he's hanging around with? Does she have any other guys she likes? How does she feel about being so attractive? Does she even know it? You get the idea.

2. Give her an anti-stereotype.
Give her a flaw or just a characteristic that isn't something that's immediately apparent. How about a fear of water? Say she's the blond-bimbo instead. Maybe she's the biggest brain at the school. A cheerleader? How about a cheerleader who's a klutz?

3. Put her in your MC's shoes.
Say she's the MC. How would she handle the main problem differently? How would it change the book? Probably it wouldn't work the same way as it's our character's choices that drive the story. But this exercise will not only get you in the Mermaid's head, it will also strengthen your understanding of your MC.

Okay, now you're a little more prepared. Re-write the scene. What happens? Does it change anything? It might. She might have an actual conversation with your MC that makes her think twice about this mermaid vixen. She might surprise you and get up and slap the merman. Or maybe she actually has the hots for the MC. See, if you had looked at her as a device instead of a full fledged character you might have missed some great potential plot points. Or at least a nice unexpected moment. And overall it will bring more dimension to your writing. Trust me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Now as you all know, when I do a review I typically have a paranormal creature of some sort read the book and give a review as well. I've had as my guest a
Vampire, the Big Bad Wolf, and a Mad Scientist named Dave among others. But today I want to review the book BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, so I've asked a SOUTHERNER (yes they DO exist) to be my guest. I'd like you all to welcome my critique partner and genuine southern bell, Leslie Rose (check out her own blog here).

1. So, Leslie did BEAUTIFUL CREATURES honestly portray the South and its people?
Well darlin', if you are referrin' to our loyalty toward our grand and glorious family trees, preservin' true history instead of the northern version of the Civil War, and what good eatin' is, then I would say, yes. I may take issue with the assumption that some of us are narrow minded because we like keepin' things the way they always have been. Different isn't always better, you know. Disruption can be downright dangerous.

What one thing would you add if you could?
Absolutely nothing! The roller coaster ride had the perfect amount of flips, upside-down dangling, and screaming with my hands in the air.

Finish this sentence: Paranormal and the South go together like
spaghetti in chili.

What did you think of the book overall?
I wanted to close my eyes and leap into it like Bert's chalk pictures in MARY POPPINS. The authenticity of the south made me homesick one minute and glad I escaped to California the next. Ethan's perseverance touched my heart. The richness of the caster world created by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl calls to me in my sleep. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is going right next to GONE WITH THE WIND on my bookshelf. That is praise of the highest degree where I come from.

Well there you have it. I couldn't have said it better myself! But if you still want my opinion, I LOVED this book. I fell absolutely in love with the main character, Ethan. So much so that I've already devoured BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS and am looking forward to the third. The writing was gorgeous and the plot was unique. But the characters are really what made it special.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Critiquing Creatures

Do you have a Critique Group? Mine is a constant source of support and inspiration to me. They give me much needed feedback, but they are also so much more. I'm lucky, and I know that. It isn't always easy to find the right group of people. And how should you critique? Not to be cliche, but do onto others...

Here are some examples of the mistakes certain "types" of critiquing creatures will make. Learn from them!

1. The Vampire
He's a parasite, feeding off the hard work, sweat, and yes, blood of others. He wants to take, take, take, but forgets to give. He scribbles a quick, nice job on the top of your pages, but expects a line by line critique from you. He needs to learn to give because not only is it the RIGHT THING TO DO, to hold up his side of the bargain, but it's also helpful to him. Because when he's looking at what works and doesn't in your writing, he'll learn what to look for in his own.

2. The Ghost
She's not really there. Whether physically or emotionally. She refuses to open up and really share. Nor is she open to criticism. She's defensive and doesn't want to hear it. Well, guess what? She's not going to get anything out of the group! If you can't open yourself to finding the flaws in your own work, you'll never grow. And that's just sad.

3. The Werewolf
She attacks, going right for the jugular. She won't pull any punches. And at first glance this may seem the right way to go. But that's the last thing to do if you want anyone to hear what you're really saying. There are delicate ways to approach these things. Ever hear of the sandwich method? I know, I know, werewolves aren't known for liking sandwiches, but that's the problem! Study it if you don't know it.

4. The Fairy
He (let's not be sexist here people) is too sensitive and doesn't want to hurt your feelings. So he won't be honest. That's not doing anyone any good. Yes it's nice to hear "It was incredible!" But how does that help your revision? He could also benefit from learning the sandwich method. He needs to understand that by giving specific feedback, he's actually being the best friend of all.

Have you met any of these creatures? I hope they aren't in your critique group! If you haven't found one, keep searching. Because feedback is so very important. It's impossible for you to see everything. And sometimes it's right below the surface until someone else says it and you have one of those AHA moments, which are wonderful.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Common Senses

Very punny, no? :D

We all know that writing with all our senses is very important. No matter what your genre is. It's easier when we're writing about something familiar though. Right? If you live near the ocean for example, you probably know about that saltwater smell, the wind blowing off the water, the feel of the sand between your toes.

But what if you're writing about a desert planet in another star system? Or the jungles of a whole other world? How do you know what it feels, smells, sounds like? Because let's face it, you have to be specific. You have to know your world - even if it's one that exists only in your head.

But everyone can benefit from this exercise. Suppose you live by the ocean, but you're writing about the desert? And you just can't afford a trip to Arizona for research? So stretch your writing muscles, and give this a shot:

You're writing a story about the lost city of Atlantis. And NO I don't care if you never write fantasy - I said stretch here people!! Ahem. Now what is Atlantis like? Who lives there? Pretend you are one of the citizens and answer the following questions:

1. What does it look like? Is there plant life? What building materials do your people use? What's the lighting like?

2. What does it sound like? Is everything altered because it's underwater? Or is it somewhere else, and there is no sound? Is it quiet, or noisy? If it's noisy, what's making it that way?

3. What does it feel like? What's the ground made of? Clothes? Again - is there water all around or air?

4. What does it smell like? Is the air stale? What kind of food is plentiful? How do those plants smell if that's what's there?

5. What does it taste like? Is it underwater and you taste the salt? What's your favorite or least favorite food?

Okay now here comes the trickiest part. Ready? Now decide what your mood is, and go back and answer these questions. How do the answers reflect your character's perspective? Ahhh, now we've got something more than just description. We have something that weaves together to create an unforgettable scene.

It's like magic. A great tool for all writers no matter the genre. So don't forget to use your senses.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Doubt and Gremlins

Occasionally on Twitter, I use the hashtag #peskygremlins. I do this for fun of course, however in everything there is a grain of truth. See, Gremlins? They steal your matching socks, hide your keys, and the worst ones of all will whisper to your subconscious while you write. These most dangerous of creatures have another name - doubt.

We all feel it. Even JK Rowling has admitted to it (though perhaps not lately). On every step of the journey there's that nagging voice that makes us question our worth. These Gremlins sense your weakest moments, and pray upon your insecurities. So what can you do?

1. Turn that voice around!
Have you ever read a simply phenomenal book, and thought, I can't do that? That's a huge compliment to the writer. But instead, try forcing yourself to think, Wow, I can learn a lot from this writer, it gives me something to aspire toward. Because if I work hard enough I can do it! The Gremlin will no doubt run screaming.

2. Go with the flow!
You're sitting at your computer, in the middle of your rough draft, and all of a sudden your "internal editor" (yet another name for this type of Gremlin) says, "Darling, this is trash!" Well, just stick out your tongue and keep writing, because if you say, "Shut up, this is called a rough draft for a reason, and that's what revision is for," then the Gremlin will get so angry his ugly little head will explode. But don't worry it doesn't leave a mess, it just disintegrates. Then you can sigh with relief and let the words flow freely.

3. Focus on the positive!
You just got another rejection. Yep, it happens. To ALL of us. And this always make the Gremlins happy because they love to whisper those two little words, give up. Just laugh right in that Gremlin's face, and send out another submission, or revise (depending on the situation), and the Gremlin will become so confused that they end up spontaneously combusting. Because all you have to do is remember that this is just another notch in your belt for all those "How I got published" stories you'll no doubt tell later. Remember that this is a necessary stepping stone on the way to success. And remember that it always could be that very next one that does it.

So as long as you keep working on your craft, keep searching for support from other writers, and keep a broom on hand to chase away those pesky Gremlins... everything will be okay!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ah the Memories

Do you realize that it will be an entire year tomorrow since my first post? Boy - I really jumped in there not knowing what to do! But I think I've found my groove on the way, and I am so incredibly thankful to have all of you loyal followers/readers and your support.

Since some of you haven't been with me all that long, I thought in honor of my one year blogoversary I would link to some of my favorite posts. What was your favorite? What would you like to see more of?

1. Favorite just for fun posts:
2. Favorite Book Reviews:

3. Favorite Writing posts:

4. Favorite Guests:

Hope you enjoy, and thanks again to all of you. I've had an amazing time, and met so many incredible people. It makes the whole thing that much sweeter.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Madness = Jen Daiker

Today I'm featuring blogger,
Jen Daiker! If you haven't visited her blog, Unedited, you should. This is what Jen had to say about herself:

1. Chocolate chip cookies are my kryptonite. It can make a cloud day sunny, put a smile on my face, I love them.
2. I have unhealthy obsession I like to call, trash TV. Bravo being my favorite, The Real Housewives is delicious, the drama is something I just can't get enough of.
3. I have vivid dreams, normally pertaining to serial killers. It is where most of my current works derive from, The Collector & The Travelers.
4. I can't stand licking fingers, it's like my nails on the chalkboard. I eat pizza, chicken wings, cheetos and never lick my fingers. I've also asked that my husband not do that and he is so sweet and refrains as much as possible.
5. When I'm chilly, excited, in a really good mood I'll do a little 'JEN' dance. I'll also rub my hands together really fast... it's silly and weird but it's fun.

Well it seems to me, Jen has a bit of a dual nature. She has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies, but won't lick her fingers. She does an adorable happy dance, but dreams of serial killers... What type of creature is both lovable and mischievous?

A PIXIE that's what! Those adorable, lovable little trouble makers... So, Jen - do you have any extra pixie dust to share with the rest of us?

Thursday, January 6, 2011


New Year, new beginning. We all feel it. So, much as I spoke of resolutions just last year (he he), today I'd like to talk about beginnings. In your manuscript of course.

It can be confusing, the mixed messages we receive. Mostly because the way you start your novel is so unbelievably important. It is what will catch the agent/editor's attention or conversely what will make the reader put it down. So we hear things like; start at a moment of action! But then we hear things like; I need to care about the character before I care if they're being attacked by a werewolf!

So what do you do?

1. Find the right place to start.

Knowing where your story begins will automatically draw in the reader. Not sure? Then write until you find it, go back and eliminate everything up to that point. Still unsure? Find your inciting incident. The spark that puts your plot in motion. And try it from there. Some stories start after or even slightly before the inciting incident, but typically it's a good leaping off point. Take the werewolf example above. If we started that morning and followed our MC through his normal day, we might lose some readers. But if we start at the moment of the attack..

2. Introduce your MC and give us a hint at his character.

Don't start with a minor character, we need to meet the MC right away. And I don't need to know what his favorite color is. But just a hint in the way he reacts to the situation will entice us. Here's another great example of show vs. tell. Let's use my situation above. When the werewolf attacks what is our MC's reaction? Look at the difference in the following two openings:

a. Ben froze as the werewolf lunged toward him, its massive claws tearing through his jeans and raking across the tender skin on his leg. Ben kicked out hard connecting with the werewolf's snout. He scrambled to his feet and took off running.

b. Ben froze, every hair on his arms standing on end. That couldn't be what it looked like. This had to be some kind of hallucination. Real wolves weren't six-feet-tall with blood-red eyes, and they sure as hell didn't stand on two feet. But did hallucinations growl? Or smell like rancid meat?
Ben didn't have time to keep wondering. The thing lunged, tearing right through his jeans and slicing his leg like a Turkey. Fight or flight kicked in and Ben's foot connected with its snout. Then he was up and running, adrenaline masking the pain in his calf. He was pretty sure he'd be dead by the end of the night one way or another though. Even if he managed to outrun the beast behind him, his mom was going to kill him for tearing up his brand new $100 jeans.

The first one might be exciting, but is it as strong as the second? Which one makes you care more about Ben and what happens to him?

3. Don't be tempted by the big bad info dump.

Oh you know what I'm talking about. You've spent all this time either painstakingly outlining a whole new world (or just making it up in your head) that you want to impart on the reader at your first opportunity. But don't do it!! Drip, drip, drip that info throughout in creative ways. I don't care about the unique plant life in the forest of Glurr. Not unless Ben happens to be running through it chased by a werewolf. Get it?

4. Follow the Rules. Sort of.

If you're just starting out, you have to follow the rules. Meaning: Don't start with dialogue. Don't use a ton of adverbs. Don't... well, you should spend time researching these since this isn't really what this post is about. In fact, someone should write a writer's bible of rules. One of you go do that...

The point is, sometimes rules are meant to be broken. But in order to break a rule like that in an acceptable way, and right off the bat without the agent/editor/reader dropping the manuscript in shock, you better have a really good reason.

So it wouldn't make sense for me to start the werewolf story like this:

"Don't eat me, I don't taste very good," Ben said, backing away. "Nice doggie."

It's kind of cute, but not as strong, and perhaps a bit confusing.

A good example of this rule being broken? The dialogue that starts off Charlotte's Web. "Where's Papa going with that axe?"

5. Impart as much information in the first line(s) as possible.

Finally, make sure you get as much info as you can to the reader (without info-dump) while at the same time making it exciting and building character. Ha! Easy right? :D That's the art. But the more we know from the get go, the more we are automatically invested in the story.

Let's take a look at Ben again, shall we? Poor Ben. Now assuming we go with my previous beginning, what do we know about Ben and his situation?

Well while we are pretty much inside our MC's head, we get a fairly good sensory description of the werewolf itself. We know it's menacing, and that it isn't a normal wolf. We know our MC is a guy. We know shortly thereafter that he's attacked by this thing, but has enough presence of mind to fight and try to get away. We also get that Ben is probably pretty young, maybe a young teen because he's used terminology like "sure as hell" and he's strong enough to potentially get away from a werewolf. Oh and of course because he's worried about his mom being mad about him ruining his pants. Which also gives us a hint at his character.
But what do we know about the world Ben lives in? A lot actually. We know that he lives in our world, or one pretty similar to it because he doesn't believe in werewolves. Not bad considering we haven't seen one description of Ben's surroundings yet.

What can you add about good beginnings? What would make Ben's opening even stronger?

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Beautiful Piece of Short Fiction and a Contest Winner!!

Well folks, remember my little email contest? It was difficult to choose a winner, everyone that entered really put in effort, and I saw some very creative and inspiring short fiction. So thank you to everyone.

But I did have to pick a winner - so pick one I did. This piece really stood out for me. In fact, I'll be honest and tell you it brought tears to my eyes. So congratulations AMY DICKERSON! Amy included a picture of the object that inspired her, and I've pasted it below as well. thank you, Amy for sharing this with both myself and my readers.

A thin wisp of cloud swirled up and touched the sleeping child’s nose. He twitched as the fluffy stuff tickled him, and awoke with a loud, “Kerchoo,” that shook his tiny body. Still groggy, he stretched his arms and legs. Far, far down below he caught a glimpse of the earth, but this was something he saw everyday and unimpressed the child rolled back over to sink into his slumber once more. Upon closing his eyes, however, he found that his sleepiness had faded. In fact, he felt more awake than he had in a very long time. Tipping his head over the side of the cloud he looked again at the world. The tiny orb looked different somehow. The patches of blue still spread wide across the sphere, but instead of lush green, it was a brilliant white that caught the boy’s eye. He rubbed his nose and took a good sniff. Ah, yes, the cold, crisp, clean smell of snow.
This meant only one thing--it was time again.
The house looked the same as he remembered; red brick with white columns. He leaned against the bushy remains of an aster in the front flower bed and pressed his nose against the window. There, inside, he saw a white Christmas tree with shining white lights, a silver nativity set, and six stockings hung. Was this the year that his would be forgotten, left in a box in the basement because really there was no reason to put it up? He cupped his hands against the glass, a smile spreading across his face as he saw his own stocking hung from the grandfather clock. And there on the table was his picture, where it had been for as long as he could remember.
The boy moved to the kitchen window to look, his breath catching painfully as he saw her…his mother. She looked just the same. True, a few more wrinkles framed her eyes and her hair was a tad bit shorter, but this was still the woman who had sat by him for months, stroking his hand as the monitors beeped. This was the woman who had sang to him and kissed him when the doctors had said there was no more time to be had. He watched as she sat at the table, silently arranging roses and pine boughs, tears streaming down her face, and though he wanted nothing more than to rush to her side he knew it was not yet time. Instead the boy walked into the garage and got into the car. He buckled himself in the passenger seat and waited.
A few minutes later his mother came out of the house clutching a tissue in one hand and her handmade arrangement in the other. She set the flowers on his seat. The two of them rode in silence through the town, down the slush covered streets until at last the iron gates of the cemetery came into view.
And then they were there.
The woman let out a shaky breath and the boy slid his hand into hers. Together they tromped through the snow to the gravestone--his gravestone.
“Oh, my sweet precious boy,” the woman whispered. “How can it have been four years? How can I have gone on four years without you?”
The boy squeezed her hand tighter, tears flowed down his chubby cheeks, but he refused to let go. There would be time to wipe them away later.
“You know that I still love you, don’t you?”
He nodded and pressed his face against her side. Deep inside her chest he could feel her pain growing, a burning ball that threatened to consume her. She swayed and a heart wrenching whimper, no louder than a newborn kittens mew, poured out of her. Her knees buckled. The boy wrapped his arms around her legs, using every ounce of strength he possessed in his little body to keep her standing. He knew he couldn’t let her fall. He couldn’t let the pain take control. He wouldn’t let it win.
He loved her too much.
And so the mother and child stood before the stone, only the child's strength and love holding the two of them up. A few minutes later the woman took out her tissue and wiped her face. Blowing a kiss to the cold granite stone, she turned and walked back to her car. Like a balloon set free from a careless child’s hand, the force holding the boy to the Earth released him. His heart was heavy, but also glad, he’d accomplished his goal. And he’d be back to do it again whenever she needed him.