Posts tagged with: craft
Posted by Tamara Hogan Sep 9 2013, 12:01 am in bananacakes, craft, Point Of View, POV, Ruby Reprise, tamara hogan, TEMPT ME, Touch Me
I have a confession to make. I keep a red pen on my bedside table. Oh, I don’t actually USE it. It’s strictly a prop. When I find the occasional typo, grammar error, misspelling or the like while I’m reading in bed, I glance at the pen. I imagine picking it up, circling the error, and then moving on.
But I recently read a best-seller that made me seriously consider scrawling bloody deletion marks through dozens of occurrences of “she/he thought.” (The only thing that stopped me? It was a library book – and as the philosopher Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.) The usage was correct, per se, but honestly, the author’s stylistic choice drove me bananacakes. “Of course ‘she thought!’” I shrieked after encountering the fourth “she thought” on a single page. “WE’RE IN HER POINT OF VIEW!”
Yeah, I have very strong feelings about POV. Which leads me to recall this post I wrote in Aug. 2011, about writing in deep third point of view.
I write in deep third person point of view – fathoms deep, dungeon deep third person point of view. A couple of weeks ago, while doing an author chat for a friend’s book club, someone asked, “Okay, what exactly does that mean?” (Lesson Infinity +1 in how readers and writers sometimes don’t share vocabulary, or care about the same things.)
It occurred to me that some of our blog readers might not know what this means either, or that maybe our readers might find it interesting to see how one author – me! – achieves her personal, preferred point of view. As always, your mileage may vary.
A couple of (overly-simplistic) definitions to start:
Point of view (POV) - the narrative voice or mode that an author uses to convey what happens in their story. Examples are first person, second person, and third person.
Third person point of view – a mode in which the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings or opinions of one or more characters, using ”he/she” rather than “I” language. Comes in subjective, objective, and omniscient flavors.
I see “deep third person” POV and “third person subjective” POV as being analogous.
As both a romance reader and a romance author, I have a strong preference for deep third person point of view because I want very intimate access to the physical and emotional layers of the story. (Romances are about feelings, right?) The more viscerally I experience a characters’ feelings, reactions, and dilemmas, the more engaged with the story I’ll become.
With the rest of this post, I’d like to demonstrate how I expose that saturated physical and emotional layer using some simple revision techniques. Consider the following two (quick ‘n dirty) sentences:
Will’s ankle was swollen and he was getting more and more concerned about his diminishing supply of medication. It was almost exhausted, and he knew that unless he found help soon, he would not be able to continue.
((shrug)) An OK early draft that gets the point across. But it could be stronger. Let’s first omit some extraneous words, and simplify the language:
Will’s ankle was swollen and he was concerned about his medication supply. Unless he found help soon, he wouldn’t be able to continue.
Better. Next, let’s raise the stakes by layering in some specific details:
Will’s ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble.
Next, eliminating Will’s name from the narrative when we’re in his point of view brings us closer yet. (Will wouldn’t think of himself as “Will”, right?)
His ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble.
Better. I feel there’s less narrative distance than there was in the previous example. Next, I’ll layer in some additional details for authenticity – namely, swearing.
His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If he didn’t find help soon, he’d be up shit creek.
Now we’re in both his head and his body. His ankle hurts – badly – and naming the medication fleshes out characterization. (How does this guy have access to morphine?)
Next, showing a character’s thoughts brings us deeper:
His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. “If I don’t find help soon,” he thought, “I’ll be up shit creek.”
Hmm. Can I show Will thinking, without using the word ”thought” in the narrative? Why, yes, of course I can – by using italics and first person POV to indicate thoughts!
His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.
He’s in pain, he’s out of meds, he’s in trouble, and he knows it. Yet…he’s still looking for help, not waiting for it to come to him, which was a conscious characterization choice on my part. I could easily have written him having a different sort of thought.
And deepest of the deep – 100% interior monologue:
My ankle throbs like a mother, and I’m out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.
I would argue that this last example is slightly less successful than the ones immediately preceding it, but I wanted to take the POV progression to its deepest logical conclusion. (Note that if you remove the italics, you’re writing in first person POV.)
So in this example, I used simple revision techniques and careful word choice to dive ever deeper into Will, exposing more and more of his physical reactions, his thoughts, and aspects of his character as the examples progress. Through each revision, the two sentences became leaner, meaner, more specific…until Will is exposed, right down to the bone. And I find the unanswered questions raised by these two sentences equally intriguing: Who is this guy? Where is this guy? How did he break his ankle, and how did he get his hands on morphine in the first place?
Which version do you like the best, and why? What do you think happened to Will? (I’ll share the scenario I had in mind later in the day.)
Pssst. The Kindle version of TOUCH ME, my Underbelly Chronicles novella, is free today and tomorrow! If you download a copy, I’d appreciate your honest review.
And watch for TEMPT ME, Bailey and Rafe’s full-length book, in October 2013! (Read an excerpt.)
Posted by June Love Aug 12 2013, 12:01 am in characterization, craft, motivation, writing tips
Guy Fieri, Season Two Winner of The Next FoodNetwork Star, as shown on the The Food Network.
I’m all about the character. I write character driven stories, so I’m always looking at people and wondering what makes them tick. Why do they do the things they do? What drives them? I especially wonder this when one of my characters, like the one in my current WIP, is being somewhat uncooperative. I began re-thinking her motivation, when I remembered this post I’d written early last year. Since I was slated to post soon, I decided to pull it out of the archives and reprint it–with a slight change at the end.
Original post: I’m not a Reality TV Junkie, but I do enjoy watching couples race around the world, cook their way to stardom, and survive in meager conditions. Whether it’s dancing, singing, looking for a mate, mining for coal, digging for gold, hunting for alligators, or driving across ice roads, these players/contestants have one goal in mind—to win the prize. It doesn’t matter if the prize is wealth, a record deal, or a shot at a television show. They all want to walk away the winner. In that respect, they are the same. Where the difference comes in is their motivation or reason for wanting the prize and to what lengths they’ll go to obtain it.
Let’s take a look at these characters, er, I mean contestants. Most, if not all shows, give us a mixture of personalities from the hateful to the naïve. If we are not family, friends, or acquaintances of these people pre-reality stardom, then we usually assume who we see on television is who these people are in their everyday lives. For example, is the arrogant, bitchy Beauty Queen truly heartless? Is the humble, caring Sweetheart Darling from Next Door as perfect as she seems? From their behavior, how can we believe anything less than that?
As the show progresses, we discover the Beauty Queen is really a charitable woman who gives endless hours feeding the hungry, knitting blankets for the homeless, and teaching underprivileged children. Who knew? Right? As she tearfully stares into the camera, she tells the world she must win the prize so she can make a difference in the lives of others. Her motivation to achieve her goal drives her to lying, cheating, and backstabbing. (Yes, I’m being dramatic. It’s called entertainment.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Sweetheart coats every request with honey and does whatever she can to make others comfortable. She charms her fellow players, the camera, and the television audience. We later learn that in her everyday life, she’s a serial killer. She needs the prize money to escape to Brazil. (Don’t look at me like that. It’s TV. Remember?)
I took the above examples to the extreme, but motivation is a powerful tool. It can bring out the best and the worst in people. It will force people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s true in life and it’s true in our books. Our job as writers is to convince our readers that our character’s motivation is substantial enough to drive them out of their comfort zone. People have different motivations for wanting the same thing. What drives my character may not be what drives your character. There is no right or wrong motivation as long as you lay out the groundwork and then have your characters make choices based on their goal(s) and motivation(s). Throw a little urgency into the mix and you’ll have a reader who’s not only involved in your story, but believes he/she would do the same thing under similar circumstances.
MODIFICATION: In the original post, I asked you to Name the Motivation by providing you with the beginning of a statement made by a character from the series Gold Rush, which is shown on the Discovery Network. This time, I’d like to try something different. Let’s make it personal. We all have multiple writing goals. Long-term. Short-term. Career goals. Finish-the-damn-book goal. Get a multimillion dollar contract goal. Word count goal. Page count goal. It doesn’t matter. Pick one of your writing goals and finish this statement: I want to <insert goal> because <insert why>, and I’m willing to do <insert ways to make it happen>.
I’ll go first: I want to write at least twenty-five pages a week because I’m ready to finish this book and submit it. To do this, I am willing to let the dishes sit in the sink, leave non-perishable groceries on the bar, set a schedule for checking and replying to email, and stop cruising the internet (including hours of Facebook). I set this goal for myself last week to give me a jump start back into my writing. Dishes in the sink and items on the bar may not seem like much to some, but it’s one of my quirks. Clean sink. Clear bar. Result: 25 pages!
Now, tell me yours.
Posted by Tamara Hogan Aug 9 2013, 12:01 am in craft, Free-For-All Friday, research, tamara hogan
Thriller writer Chelsea Cain recently tweeted:
I see I’m not the only writer who has these concerns, especially given recent revelations about government data collection. Um…NSA? FBI? DoJ? LMNOP? You know that very specific research I did recently, with the body decomposition rates in a very specific geographic area under very specific weather conditions?
It was research. Really. Kthxbai.
Every story, regardless of its historical era and no matter how reality-based or speculative the world, requires research to maximize the story’s authenticity. My recent research forays have included hematology, twerking, theoretical physics, burner phones, the House of Draculesti, Tasers, and Justin Bieber’s latest unfortunate tattoo.
Any government agency trying to build a digital profile of any author is going to have a mighty hard time.
What are you researching right now? Please share some of the weird, unexpected, notable, or interesting areas you’ve researched for a recent writing project. Did you learn anything that surprised you?
GIVEAWAYS! Today, Ruby Sister Hope Ramsay and I are two of the featured authors at Dear Author‘s August Giveaway Extravaganza, celebrating romance readers for the entire month! Pop on over to have a chance to win our books.
Psssst! You don’t have to go to Dear Author to learn that my self-published Underbelly Chronicles e-novella, TOUCH ME, is free at Amazon Aug. 9-11! Grab one, fast! And if you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate your honest review!
Posted by Dani Wade May 13 2013, 12:01 am in author interview, craft, Ella Sheridan, golden heart, golden heart finalists, guest author, Lucky 13
Today I have the joy of welcoming a guest blogger from the Lucky 13s–the Golden Heart Finalists of 2013. Ella Sheridan is a finalist in the Paranormal category with her manuscript UNBROKEN – she’s also my twin sister. We thought we’d do something a little different, and just talk about the joys and struggles of writing, and the novelty of having someone be a part of your life from the moment the egg splits.
Please join me in welcoming my sister, Ella Sheridan!
Dani: I can’t believe you’re here! Seems like we’ve done everything together. We went to school together, took the same classes, got the same major and minor degrees. Married within 6 months of each other and had all our kids pretty close together.
Then you had to copy me and start writing…
Ella: Now, I did start when we were teenagers. I just had to develop stamina. You didn’t start until you were older.
D: Still, we’ve always read voraciously.
E: I think you learn a lot from reading. A lot of the things I do now I do instinctively because I absorbed it. From a very young age we were learning about story details, arcs, and characterization. We were reading adult books at 12 or 13.
What I think is interesting is your process hasn’t really changed all that much through the years. Whereas mine has evolved…and in some cases, is all over the map.
D: I basically do brainstorming, then plot, and get it all down in extensive notes. Then I do a really fast, really rough draft before revising.
E: And your story doesn’t really change. Once you plot it, you don’t make any huge changes (to the story) after that. But I typically have a major change—
D: In just about every chapter! I really don’t know why you want to write the book twice…what’s the point of that?
E: If I could get it right the first time, it would be a lot easier. I’m just a glutton for punishment, I guess. I’ve done that with all except for 1 Nano book, which I only had to rewrite the ending of because my critique partner read it and said, um, I don’t think so.
D: You are a plotter, though, like me.
E: Yes, I plot—
D: –Then you re-plot.
E: Then I plot some more. And then I change those plots.
D: But you know when it’s right.
E: Yes, that’s the thing that has changed a lot with my GH book. I still struggle with the worry over whether its good enough, but I don’t worry if the story is moving in the right direction, because if it’s not right, I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t settle and have that calm in my head because I know something is off. Even if I don’t know what it is. And when I get a scene right, I have peace. I’ll worry about whether someone else will like it, but I know I’ve gone in the right direction.
That’s the biggest change with this book. I don’t know if it’s a confidence level or an evolution of my process or just this book.
D: I can’t help you there. I’m actually published and I haven’t figured it out. I get it ready to send in and think, “What if I screwed that up?” But it’s too late by then.
E: Well, I’m still working on plotting the next books a little at a time, and the thought of plotting book 2 of a 9 book series terrifies me. Because I do not want to repeat what I did with this one: force myself to write a rough draft that I knew wasn’t right but I thought, well I’ll just get it on the page and revise it. Oh, man, what a load of crap…
I have never struggled with revisions this bad, even though I’ve done major revisions on all of my previous 4 books, but this one was a major overhaul and a half – agonizingly painful to revise. Part of it was that I didn’t know the rules of my world well enough. I hadn’t figured them out to my satisfaction. I tried to just push through it and hope that those details came. And that didn’t work.
The other part was that I wasn’t as familiar with my characters as I should have been. I mean, I’d been thinking about UNBROKEN’S characters for 3 years. I thought I knew them, and could write them. Then I started the book and…nope. Probably my first clue should have been that I had no music for this book. When I started writing I searched and searched. For me music is vitally important to plotting, getting through certain scenes, setting a mood in my mind—
D: Another thing we do the same.
E: Exactly. And with this book I could not find music that worked that way for me. Until I started the rewrite and then it finally fell into place. That was a huge warning sign that I ignored. You learn, though, and hopefully the next one will be easier.
Of course I always think that the next one will be easier. No. No its not.
D: Come on, girl. You’ve got to get it together. I say, as if I have it all together, and don’t call her every couple of weeks asking her to talk me off a ledge because I’ve freaked out over something.
E: We’re both needy. Something else we share. But it does kind of amaze me that our processes developed separately, but are still so similar. We both use the music, plot to an excessive extent, fill out forms and notes, and both need pictures of our characters. I need to be able to picture them, no matter how minor.
With Unbroken, I have pictures of places too. For the lair I googled underground bunkers, and came up with a home built into the ground in Sweden, but it’s all brushed concrete inside. I started looking at pictures of the inside, because they rent it to people –
D: You could actually go stay in your house!
E: Exactly! And this is where they got on the leather couch and… Research!
D: We get asked a lot, are you twins? Which is funny because I think the older we get, the less we look alike.
E: Me too. I think it’s the husband influence.
D: What would you say has been the neatest and the least favorite part of being a twin?
E: The least favorite part? I think now, there’s not anything about it I don’t like. But when I was just reaching adulthood, that was a hard time to kind of find out who I was –
D: Hey, you stole my answer!
E: Well, we are twins. I think that was a hard time to find myself, and I think it took me longer than the average person.
D: Yes, because you have to find who your identity is on your own. We had an identity as a set. But then we had to find our single identity outside of this other person, which is difficult when you’re with that person all the time. And used to being addressed as, well, one.
E: And thought of as a set. Sort of interchangeable, in a way. Even by people who should have known better.
D: It wasn’t until people got to know us, realized we had different personalities and different ways of approaching things, that we got the more individual approach.
E: The thing I like the most is I don’t have to go anywhere by myself if I don’t want to.
D: When I first started writing, it was the first major thing I ever did by myself. Even though getting married and starting a family were done separately, I was just adding another partner. And it was a normal pursuit.
But writing was outside the norm, and I had to do it alone, I had to walk into my first writers meeting by myself, make my first submission by myself. That is what helped me establish my identity more than anything. So when people talk about writing and how being a writer is something that is wrapped up in who you are, I think this is truer for me than it is for most people. Because it helped me establish myself as an individual person.
E: For me, it was more like following in your footsteps, so I felt like I had to work really hard to prove that I was good enough, that I wasn’t just going along. I had to really work hard.
That’s why the GH means so much to me too. It’s something we share, and that makes it more special to me. Probably less special for you, because you’re like I have to share this too? But for me, I feel like I’m following behind you and giving honor to a legacy, so to speak.
D: Aw, I have a legacy!
E: Don’t let it go to your head or anything… especially the next time you send line edits to me.
D: You do make my books better.
E: That’s an area I feel like I’ve come into my own. Not just with this book, but with my work as a line editor that helped set me apart and give us some differences. It’s something I specialize in. Also it helps that we aren’t targeting the same publishers either. So we’re doing the same thing but coming at it from different angles.
D: And even the things that are similar both have their own voice. We may look the same, but we don’t write the same.
E: Just like we have different personalities, we also have different voices and ways of carrying out our stories.
D: How about some fun facts?
1. We’re mirror image twins. Dani is left-handed and Ella is right-handed. We’re opposites in certain physical areas. We have the same moles on opposite sides of our faces.
2. Ella is allergic to a lot of things that Dani is not.
3. We have similar tastes in clothes, and are both struggling through that “I don’t want to look old” stage.
4. Ella is an inch taller than Dani but Dani is 2 minutes older than her.
5. We do have siblings, but the oldest is 18 years younger than we are. Our youngest sister is creative too, writing songs and poetry.
6. We handle conflict very differently. Ella is the fighter. Dani is more likely avoid conflict if at all possible.
7. Ella’s interest in martial arts adds a whole new element to her evil twin status. Dani is more of an elliptical kind of person, but Ella tells her how to hurt people in her books.
8. Dani’s 2009 GH book features a heroine who is trying to save her twin sister from a kidnapper.
D: The one thing that’s been the best about being a twin is I’ve never had to be alone, really. Through good times and bad. There’s always this person who is not only there, but actually gets it without you having to say anything.
E: We don’t have to explain things to each other.
D: All I have to do is look at you and you know what I’m thinking.
E: Just the lift of an eyebrow or the turn of the head and I get it completely. I could talk for hours at my husband and he wouldn’t get it. I want to say, “Can’t you read my mind?” But no. No, he can’t.
The older we get, the stronger the twin telepathy gets. “I’m not feeling good today. Think I’ll give Dani a call.” Yep, she’s sick.
D: That really has gotten stronger. It didn’t really develop fully until we were adults. I only remember 1 incident of telepathy as a teenager, but other than that it was mostly once we were older. Now it’s strengthening to the point that instead of being triggered by extreme emotions, it’s more everyday things.
One day, Ella texted me and said, “Did you hear from your editor today? Because I’m feeling unusually antsy.” I replied, “I got my celebratory sale shoes.” Oh, so that’s what the excitement is all about…
Dani and Ella will be hanging around today, answering questions about plotting, characterization, being Golden Heart sisters, and anything twins.
Ella Sheridan is a 2013 GH finalist in the Paranormal category with her manuscript, UNBROKEN. She’s a member of RWA and writes contemporary romantic suspense and paranormal with an erotic flare. Her spare time is filled not just with freelance editing, but also teaching karate/jujitsu classes. You can learn more about her here.
The human world is populated with myths that allow them to pretend their plain, mundane world is more than it seems—except those myths are true. They stem from one shape-shifting species, the Archai. The Archai’s special abilities gave birth to the legends humans revered, but man can never truly understand what it means to be Archai. Their gifts. Their purpose. The depths of their betrayals.
Arik counts on no one but himself, and he likes it that way. Isolated, alone, he watches and waits for the opportunity to gain the only thing he’ll allow himself to desire: revenge. Then, in the dark of night, the perfect weapon falls unexpectedly into his grasp.
Kat is always on the outside looking in. She’s resigned to being invisible, until an innocent walk home from work is interrupted by a savage attack, forever changing the person she’s always been. Now she’s the focus of a man bent on destroying her world to settle his own score.
Two wills clashing. Two empty hearts in need of each other. Surrendering to the hunger between them is a given, but a deadly enemy lies in wait, and surrendering their souls may be the only thing that saves them.
Posted by Hope Ramsay May 9 2013, 12:01 am in Abigail Sharpe, cowboys, craft, guest author, Unsinkables
I am so happy to be hosting my friend and fellow Unsinkable and Forever Romance author, Abigail Sharpe today. Her debut novel, Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? is out this week. And since I have a real weakness for cowboys I can’t wait to read it.
Abigail is blogging today about a subject I struggle with — writing that all-important sex scene.
Sex and the Reserved Romance Author
I wrote a romance novel. It’s called Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? and it’s out this week. And yes, it contains that three letter word, SEX!
I see a lot of sex questions on author message boards for romance novels. How much is too much? Do you even need it at all? Can you just throw one of those scenes in there to up the word count? And I know the answer: You do what’s right to advance the story. Sex for the sake of sex? The reader will know. And not be happy.
There is one question I don’t hear at all: How do you write it when you can’t even look at your monitor?
Yeah, that was me. I could *read* the physical scenes without a problem. I’m not shy and I’m not a prude, but WRITING lovemaking? Or just some down and dirty sex? Geesh. I blush when I just think about penning an erotica.
I mean, I crack dirty jokes with the best of ‘em. (Two horses fell into the mud. See?) But I didn’t create those jokes. I heard them from someone else. The sex scenes in Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? come straight from my own imagination. Listen – I’ve been married for 15 years and have two kids, but… what if my MOTHER reads my story? She’ll wonder how I know some of these things AND will realize I’m no longer a virgin! And if she shows her friends? Oy.
I remember when it was Time. I was at the point in Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? where the hero and heroine were ready to DO IT. They had been interrupted several times over the course of the story already (looking back, that was probably my own reluctance to actually WRITE the scene) and I had deprived them for long enough. So, in my technical-writer-as-my-day-job way, I wrote their sex scene. Very step-by-step. And with my eyes closed and facing away from the monitor.
Editing was even worse. Because then I had to actually READ what I had written. You can’t do that with your eyes closed. Oh, and READING it at critique group? Fugetaboutit. I talk fast normally, but MAN! I was like a horse at Preakness.
Once I got more comfortable with the idea that I had to write sex if I wanted the characters in my novels to have sex, it got a little easier. A little. I’m fortunate my critique group will tell me if there are flying body parts or if it reads like a technical manual. Even if I am still trying to read the draft with my eyes closed.
So how do you DO IT? I mean write sex scenes, of course. I need all the help I can get. And one commenter will win a digital copy of Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy?
* * * * *
There’s nothing florist Ainsley Fairfax won’t do to help her sister get the love of her life-even if it means taking her place on a bachelorette weekend at a Wyoming ranch so Cecelia can sail off with the man of her dreams. Ainsley is determined to spend the time keeping her head down and her heart safely tucked away-until an encounter with the ranch’s hunky owner gets her heart-and steamy desires-to bloom . . .
Riley Pommer doesn’t want to be lassoed into any relationship. But with the family ranch in dire straits, Riley knows his sisters’ crazy plan to turn the ranch into the setting for a dating competition-and using Riley as the bait-is the only thing standing between them and foreclosure. But the rules of the game change the instant Riley lays eyes on the spirited Ainsley. Now, as others try to stampede over their love, can Riley prove to Ainsley that true love is a prize worth fighting for?
Abigail is a Boston-bred Yankee now eating grits and saying “y’all” in North Central Florida. She dreamed more of being a stage actress or joining the CIA than being an author. While she still enjoys participating in community theater productions and singing karaoke, the secret-agent career was replaced by hours at her computer, writing stories of love and laughter and happily ever after. Her first novel, Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? is being released May 7, 2013, by Grand Central Forever Yours.
Abigail lives with her husband, two kids, and one crazy princess puppy who masquerades as a sock thief when she thinks no one is looking.
Posted by Liz Talley May 1 2013, 1:01 am in craft, Donnell Bell, liz talley, prologue, writers, Writers Digest, Writers Unboxed
Confused by that title?
Well, this is how my upcoming June release begins. Notice it doesn’t begin with Chapter One. Yep. That’s right. His Uptown Girl starts with a PROLOGUE.
Ah, the dreaded prologue. Bain of editors and agents existence. Most hate it. Call it lazy. Unnecessary. Boring. But…..as a reader I love them.
Yes, you read that right. I love a good prologue. There. I’ve come clean. Oh, sure some of you are deeply inhaling and asking why. And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Finally someone who gets me!” And others are probably wishing they’d clicked on a different blog. LOL. But nevertheless, we’re going to talk about prologues. Yes, No or Maybe? You decide.
This subject has been knocking around in my head for a couple of days. One of my friends - Donnell Bell - wrote a post last week on another blog about bad advice writers receive, and one such piece of misguided advice included the RULE of no prologues. Now this kinda got my dander up because I don’t like RULES in regards to writing. It offends the artistic side of me (I do have one underneath the other sides of me). I don’t like for someone to tell me I can’t do that in a book. It pisses me off. Makes me determined to prove them wrong. Probably a flaw in my character, but still, I feel that way. So anywho, Donnell said she watched as a sea of newbies wrote down every word this agent said which included No Prologues! He said he never read any submission that came across his desk with a prologue. Really? I’d scratch him off my list just for that comment. He’s as stubborn as I am.
So I did a little research on prologues. I mean, hey, I got one in my upcoming book and my editor didn’t say “Boo!” about it. And my editor’s good, y’all. I ain’t lyin’ about that.
So the first place I found on my search for “Writers + Prologues + No” was a popular site called Writers Unboxed and the author of the blog pretty much did the work for me. His blog post, first posted in 2010, basically interviewed several industry professionals and posted their responses. You can read them all here: http://writerunboxed.com/2010/10/21/prologues-yes-or-no/ Basically, the gist is prologues are lazy writing. They often are used to set the mood or introduce what is at stake. Almost ALL of the agents interviewed said the story should stand alone without a prologue. Hmmm….like we didn’t already know agents don’t like prologues. However, one did admit that when done correctly, a prologue can be a beautiful tool.
Then next stop on my small research trip was Daily Writing Tips with a post titled “Three Reasons to Ditch Your Novel’s Prologue.” I pretty much clued in that this writer thought you didn’t need a prologue. Yeah. Got that right in the title. Here’s the link: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/3-reasons-to-ditch-your-novels-prologue/. So basically the three questions are 1. Are you bored by reading it? 2. Is it just backstory? 3. Is it just setting the mood? So basically, the same stuff as the first post discussed. I’m sensing a theme here.
And finally, my third stop was Writer’s Digest to something like looked like a forum. Basically it asked “When to Use a Prologue.” Here’s the link: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/formatting/when-to-use-a-prologue. The author (or expert) basically explains why anyone would even want to use a prologue to someone who asked the question “When should a prologue be used?”
So what do I think?
Well, I think you know what I think. Heck, I’m using one, right?
So here’s the prologue dialogue from Liz Talley (not even remotely expert)
As a reader I like a prologue. I know that whatever happens in the prologue will influence/uncover/decide/resolve a problem later on in the book and that DRIVES ME FORWARD. I rarely feel like my time is wasted because a prologue gives me further insight in a character or situation, and often it makes me care about what is going to commence in the plot. In one of the above links an agent said a prologue makes a reader start two books. Fine by me. I like the beginning of books. In fact I love the beginning. There is so much unknown, so much to learn. I never read one page and set a book down. Never. I may read only a chapter and decide I don’t like the writing or the character or the villain’s colored socks, but I’ve never read a Prologue and stopped. Mostly because if the author and editor and candlestick maker thought it was important enough to start the book with… then it’s probably important enough to start the book with. I’ve also never found it lazy, but I can say that oftentimes backstory slivered throughout a book feels very awkward to me. And, Lord Have Mercy, when an author uses a “Tell me about what happened that dark night” and does a weird flashback in the middle of scene. Yeah, I think that’s more awkward than starting years before on that dark night, plopping me down into the middle of the action.
So why did I use a prologue? Not merely so I can snub my nose and say “Nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo” at agents who have turned up their noses at prologues with extreme prejudice, but also because I thought it needed to be in the darn book. In my book, what happens in the prologue sets the scene, gives backstory, and unites my characters’ (all three POV characters) motivations. It starts on a dark night three days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. It involves an eleven year old kid, a stolen box and the murder of the child’s mother. Could I have done a flashback? Sure. Could I jerk the prologue out and have the book stand alone? Probably.
But would I want to?
Nope. Because I like a prologue.
So what do you think about prologues? Have you used them?
Posted by Heather McCollum Apr 26 2013, 12:01 am in adventure, craft, Details, writing
As writers we are blessed with endless imagination (on those days our muse graces us with her fickle presence). We can dunk ourselves into shark infested waters, flirt our way through 16th century masquerades, and find ourselves trapped in Egyptian sarcophagi. When we close our eyes we can imagine the feel of winter wind slicing like a knife off a Scottish mountain (ben) or smell the earthy moisture permeating a rainforest. Those details make our good stories fantastic, something for which must all strive.
And for the most part, the internet, books, movies, and workshops can give us those details without us ever actually having to step outside our houses. We can stay perpetually in our sweat pants and bunny slippers, dreaming of far off adventures, living them in our heads and tapping them into existence on our lap tops.
However – the details that we read about and then use in our manuscripts are recycled through the lens and words of others. They are not “fresh” or unique to your voice. We can take the details and reshape them through the filters of our own muse, but again, the details can become diluted.
So today I am going to throw out a suggestion: Step out. Experience. Find adventure. Live.
For those who don’t know me, I’ve been through two hellish years fighting and beating the sh*t out of ovarian cancer. Major surgery, 15 months of chemo, 6 more months of nerve regeneration, and then weaning off massive pain meds has been a journey of huge proportions. My diagnosis 2 years ago was very unexpected (who expects to hear “you have cancer”?) and I had registered for a 5K mud run/obstacle course called the Rugged Maniac. Well…that didn’t happen. So two years later, when the pain subsided, I started to train again. And last weekend I did it!
The Rugged Maniac race (http://www.ruggedmaniac.com) took over an hour and a half, ten friends and my Highlander husband to help me through it, but I did it, all of it. What an awesome experience! An experience that I can use first hand in my writing.
I now thoroughly understand how shockingly cold pond water is when it hits your hoo hoo. I know how scary it is to wade through murky water over rocks and sucking silt when you’re blind to what’s below the surface. I’ve learned what it’s like to crawl, pulling myself with cut elbows, through thick mud under barbed wire. I will always remember what it’s like to have a handsome Highlander catch up to me in that mud and kiss me senseless so I won’t give up.
I jumped over a line of fire, feeling the scorching heat warm my shivering body as I leapt through the smoke. I realized painfully that you can’t use a rope to crawl up a tube when it’s covered with slippery mud. I crawled through underground mud tunnels in the dark while slapping my claustrophobia in its shocked face. I learned the best way to get across a cargo net 40 feet in the air is to roll across it. And once again I tasted sweet victory.
I made it across!
It was a day I will never forget, and I will use every bit of it in my novels. I don’t write army basic training stories, but all those experiences can be translated into challenges for my characters. The simultaneous chill from the wind on wet skin mixed with burning heat from exertion. The rocky, uneven, red-clay earth. The taste of muddy water in my throat and desperate blinking to get mud out of my eyes. And the unabashed love for a man willing to crawl through mud and kiss me to cheer me on. It’s all there now in my repertoire for my muse to use at will, no copyright concerns.
I’m not saying that you need to go out and dive into mud (although it was quite stimulating). What I am recommending is for you to increase your experience base. Go places.
Risk discomfort. Try new things. For some of you, this is second nature. You were born with a love of adventure and take on challenges each day. For others of us, this is something we need to push ourselves toward.We write about adventures. To do it well, with authentic details, we must have some adventures of our own. Then when you’re living it, pay attention and build your own reference library in your mind. You can pull bits and pieces from it to enhance your stories.
I’m planning a trip to England and Scotland this summer. I will be snapping photos, tasting foods, touching 14th century dungeon walls, checking under kilts (LOL!), smelling the countryside, listening to brogues, feeling the mist of the isles, and imagining fairies as I hug monolithic standing stones. It’s a trip to remember forever and I will be savoring every detail. It will make me a more rounded person and will in turn fill my stories with authentic, sensory-rich details.
So again, I urge you to put down the research book, close the lap top, step outside your zone of comfort and live.
Looking for adventure or fresh details? You could try:
Comedy shows, theater, art shows
Fairs (Renaissance fairs are full of fresh details)
Cultural events (learn about other countries, the people and foods, fabulous research!)
Historic sites and museums
Girls weekend to Vegas or the beach
Mud run, ropes course, learning a new sport (as a spectator or participant)
Spa trip, meditation center/retreat
Trip to NYC to see a play on Broadway, train trip to another city
Picnic in the woods, camping, finding a waterfall
Volunteer (homeless shelter, animal shelter, mission work, Special Olympics)
Go to parties you are invited to (or crash some if your muse wants you to ramp up the adventure!)
Join a social group (wine tasting, gardening, swinging – LOL! Just seeing if you are still there : )
Get something pierced (eeks!)
Dress up for Halloween
Talk your hubby/partner into going away with you on a romantic trip
These are just a few ideas to work adventure into your life. There are multitudes more. But look for something, anything to broaden your experience base. Put on your big girl panties, invite your muse, and step out there into the big wide world. It’s thrilling and fun – it’s life!
What are some of the adventures you’ve taken or long to take, and how can they enhance your writing?
Posted by Sara Ramsey Apr 9 2013, 12:05 am in craft, pantsing, plotting
I’m a pantser. I wish I weren’t – I’m so logical and organized in the rest of my life (unless you’re emailing me – all bets are off when it comes to responding to email). Theoretically, I should be just as logical and organized in my plotting. I dream of scenes arranged on index cards, of carefully highlighted plotting notebooks and special research folders.
But that’s not how I write. I make a theoretical plot, then I start writing – then I get to the halfway point of the book, toss it all, and rewrite it again from the beginning. By the end, the book is something I’m proud of, but it’s also completely unrecognizable from my original idea.
With my first two books (Heiress Without a Cause and Scotsmen Prefer Blondes), this process was painful but ultimately bearable (but did I mention painful?). But as my series progresses, I’m learning more about not just how to pants a novel, but how to pants a series. My third book, The Marquess Who Loved Me, came out in February, and as I wrote it I realized how much I have to compensate for my pantsing nature when I’m writing later books in a series.
The cold, brutal fact is this: if you’re pantsing a series, you may have written yourself into unfixable holes.
So what’s a pantser to do? I can’t say I’ll start plotting in advance, but here are some things that work for me:
- Track the dates of everything that happened in previous books. I use software called Aeon Timeline ($40, Mac only), and I put in key dates from every project – when the hero/heroine meet, where they go, what they’re up to, etc., so that I know where they were if I need to use them as secondary characters in future books. Better, Aeon Timeline allows me to establish when a character was born, and then tells me how old they are on any given future date – so helpful when your book spans a couple of years, so you don’t accidentally leave one character at the same age for two or three years I took the time to go back and do this for all three of my books now – I’d rather track it now than get to the twentieth book in my Regency worlds and start reusing minor characters (or, heaven forbid, major characters) because I forgot they existed.
- Be vague. Be very vague. There are some things you can’t be vague about – hair color and names come to mind. And for secondary characters to feel real and not cardboard-y, they need personalities and preferences. But it’s a lot easier to be concrete about preferences (such as a secondary character preferring lemons instead of sugar in her tea) – you’re not writing yourself into a corner with those. It’s much harder to be concrete about things like how many previous suitors a secondary character has had. If that character becomes a heroine in a future book, you’re stuck with whatever number you gave earlier in the series. I’m now trying to be more vague about personal backstory in early books so I have room to play later.
- Reread your previous books and focus on scenes featuring those characters. If the hero/heroine in a later book were secondary characters in earlier books, reread those scenes before you start writing. There will always be readers who pick up the tiny facts you miss (like if a character’s hair is a slightly different shade of flaxen). Most people won’t notice that stuff. However, they *will* notice if a secondary character they loved in an earlier book becomes a totally different person in a later book. Rereading early scenes helps you to reset and remember the voices of those characters before you pants them into a completely different voice.
And if all else fails, then maybe this book will be the one that becomes your funny cocktail-party story about how you accidentally turned a character from a virgin spinster to a courtesan. But hopefully, by keeping track of details and staying vague, you can give yourself room to pants a great story without writing yourself into a corner
How do you plot your series? Do you know what will happen from the first book? Or have you found yourself in a trap of your own making? I’d love to hear how you deal with the later books in your series – thanks for sharing!
Posted by Tamara Hogan Apr 3 2013, 12:01 am in anthology, craft, lakes, tamara hogan
Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I don’t know if it’s because we’re landlocked or what, but I don’t know a single Minnesotan, whether a native or a transplant, who doesn’t feel a strong affinity for the water. So when someone floated an idea for the members of my RWA land chapter, Minneapolis-based Midwest Fiction Writers, to write an anthology, our beautiful and plentiful lakes seemed to be a natural and obvious touchstone.
Thus, the “Love In the Land of Lakes” anthology was born. Please welcome my chapter mates, who will tell us how the anthology came about, how they went from inspiration to the page, and how they overcame individual challenges along the way. If, like me, you have trouble writing short, you’re definitely in the right place!
First let me introduce Laura Breck, one of the editors on the project.
Laura, the anthology is called “Love in the Land of Lakes.” How did the idea of an anthology come to be, and how was the theme chosen?
Thank you for having us here today, Tamara. The anthology came together so quickly, I’m feeling a little stunned that it’s already published. Last summer, the president of Midwest Fiction Writers put out a call for a volunteer to organize a fundraising anthology. I volunteered. The theme was chosen to highlighting Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, and the anthology authors themselves created the book title.
In addition to contributing a story, you were one of the anthology’s editors. With seventeen writers’ works appearing in this anthology, how did you and your co-editors keep everyone on the same page?
It definitely felt like I had seventeen plates spinning on sticks. I organized the project using a Yahoo group started just for the anthology. I communicated with the authors through this group, and made use of the Database feature to keep track of where each story was in the process. The other two editors and I used a Facebook group to communicate among the three of us.
What does MFW plan to do with the proceeds?
The proceeds will be used to provide learning opportunities for writers of all levels. We have a Fall Harvest Workshop every September, and we invite fascinating guest speakers to each of our monthly meetings.
What about the theme inspired you to write the story you contributed?
Lizbeth Selvig: I’m a born and bred Minnesotan, and anything that has to do with our lakes and woods give me (and gives most Minnesotans) a warm, fuzzy feeling! I wanted to highlight some of the humorous things you might run into Up North: poison ivy, wild animals, small towns, strangers. And I wondered what it would be like for a native to watch a non-native deal with something like, say, a rogue raccoon! I added a little mistaken identity to my ideas and came up with “What’s Up Dock?”
Joel Skelton: When I was growing up I had a BFF whose parents owned a lake cabin. What I didn’t understand at the time, was how smitten I was with this boy. At the tender age of thirteen, I had no idea why my feelings were so strong for him. Trips to his cabin were special because it was one on one time—I didn’t have to share him with other friends.
Naomi Stone: My strongest association with Minnesota’s lakes comes from childhood memories of playing with other kids along the shores of Jewett Lake. Childhood friends returning to the lake as adults seemed like a perfect romance.
Rosemary Heim: I had a “cabin in the woods” short story tucked away from years ago. When I heard the theme, it seemed like an easy update to add a lake…
Susan Sey: I’m a Great Lakes girl, born and raised in Michigan, now living in Minnesota. So when somebody says Love and Lake in the same sentence, my mind goes straight to Lake Superior. I knew I wanted to write about a glamorous aging sexpot of a movie star who’d appeared in a previous book, so I plunked her down on the rocky shores of Superior at midnight and the rest just sort of followed.
J.S. Overmier: I’ve been working on this story for awhile and realized that it would fit the anthology theme if it just had a lake. Adding a lake is easy in Minnesota; there are thousands of them!
Rhonda Brutt: Since I’m not originally from Minnesota, I have never had that “going up north to the lake” experience that is so prevalent among native Minnesotans. The only lake that I frequent is located right here in the Twin Cities, Lake Calhoun. Since this lake draws such an interesting array of people from all walks of life, I decided to set my story in the city in Minneapolis. My characters are not on vacation, they are dealing with their everyday lives. I combined my experience with working with the homeless, and my daughter’s profession as a hair stylist to come up with my story.
Barbara Mills: When I found out that the theme was lakes, I almost dropped out. I’m a city girl, transplanted to the country, and nothing about lakes interests me. They are full of bugs and smelly fish. Then I was hit with the What Ifs. What if a city boy is trying to impress the love of his life? What if she loves the country? What if he discovers that the lake has a lot to offer?
Kathy Johnson: Water has always been important to me, from growing up along the Great Lakes in Michigan, to the romance of my husband proposing along a shoreline. When the theme for the anthology came out, it fit into an idea I had been holding onto for some time which had a kernel of truth in actuality.
Mary Schenten: My favorite image of a Minnesota lakes is the fall when the leaves have turned and their vibrant colors are reflected along the shore. I often get introspective in that season and find myself reevaluating choices I’ve made in the last year. I wondered how I would feel if I had a really big secret that I couldn’t share with even my best friend.
Jana Otto: I grew up in Minnesota – in, on, or around a lake practically every minute of every summer – so lakes represent to me the very best of times with friends and family. I loved the idea of steeping a love story in that tradition, and I knew it would be a great unifying theme for a diverse set of writers and stories.
Ann Hinnenkamp: As soon as I saw the theme I thought of my dad and brothers and all the fun they had fishing. But the one thing that bothered my mom was the smell on their clothes from cleaning all those fish. So I wrote a little story about a man who owns a fish cleaning business and the woman who loves him.
Rose Marie Meuwissen: My ex-husband’s parents owned a cabin on Mille Lacs Lake and while my children were growing up we spent most of the summer weekends at their cabin. So while writing my story, Dancing in the Moonlight, it was their cabin I pictured. Now that they are in their eighties, I envisioned what it would be like to inherit a cabin and have to decide whether keeping it or selling it was the right choice. And of course what is story without a little romance?
What indeed? Having just finished my first novella, I freely admit I found `writing short’ to be very, very challenging. Which aspect(s) of working on this project did you find the most challenging, and how did you overcome those challenges?
Joel Skelton: For me, one of the biggest challenges in writing short is determining what part of the story you can tell and have it be believable. It’s very difficult to take your characters a long distance with a limited amount of words – in this case, 5000. The characters in my story had a history, so I felt comfortable taking them to the point I did. Also, you have to be very choosy about what character traits you include—every word has to count/carry its weight.
Jody Vitek: It was very challenging to write a short. I wrote a “Guy meets girl, girl likes guy, they’re happy.” Wrong! I was told by a cp that my character had to have an arc. What!?! How can you have an arc in such a short time frame. My cp helped me figure out an arc and after a rewrite, she said i was good to go. Challenge overcome.
Lizbeth Selvig: My challenge to myself was to come up with an arc for a couple of scenes and then write a rough draft that came in within 1,000 words of our required length. I’m proud to say I did it! I also wrote my draft in longhand, since it was such a short piece, which is how I used to write all the time until I taught myself to give up my pencil for the faster keyboard. I think going back to my writing roots helped make this a fun and un-intimidating project.
Naomi Stone: I tend to write short. The most challenging part for me was filling out the story to fit the length requirement. My critique partners were a big help with this, by showing me where I could supply a little more background on my characters.
Rosemary Heim: The challenge for me was getting started. Even though I had that old story to start with, it was still daunting to begin after not writing for so long. Fortunately, I found inspiration in a workshop writing exercise, and had a good critique partner willing to bounce ideas and read the various drafts. None of which bear any similarity to that original story idea, other than the cabin in the woods!
Michel Prince: Writing short is the hardest for me and you’ll find I still didn’t succeed as well as others. At times I felt like I was writing a Tweet to cut words. It was very hard to not let my muse run away and turn this into a 50K story then try to find another one for the anthology, but I feared if I let that happen, it would just continue to happen and I’d never get a story for the anthology.
Susan Sey: Writing short is NOT my strong suit, so I had to cheat shamelessly. For LitLoL, I wrote about two characters I’d already introduced in a different book (KISS THE GIRL) who I felt hadn’t gotten enough screen time. Their declaration of love scene happened off-screen in that book, and even I didn’t know how it played out. And I wanted to. So I wrote it.I went over the limit by 23 words, I think.
Rhonda Brutt: Word count was a constant concern for me. I had to keep re-arranging my outline to condense my story, which was frustrating, and yet I learned that it can be done. Ultimately, writing a short story taught me how to get rid of the details that you don’t really need.
Barbara Mills: To keep from going long I made a detailed outline of what could happen, kept one eye on the word count, and didn’t let myself wander down interesting possibilities that presented themselves – like how had the heroine and the DNR agent been involved in the past?
Mary Schenten: I have a few short stories published and find – at least at this point – my writing is more geared to that format. I need to be reminded to add things like setting and background. I like focusing on one plot and only a few characters.
Jana Otto: Even though I’d just finished a 100,000 word novel, the biggest challenge for me was believing I could write a love story in 5,000 words. Could I be convincing within such a meager word count? After mulling it over, I overcame the challenge by just taking the leap and not looking back. I’m a plotter by nature, but acting like a pantser for this story really worked for me.
Rose Marie Meuwissen: In the beginning it was an agonizing thought to write a short story. I actually had no idea where to begin. Although the thought of not having to write 300 plus pages was somewhat energizing. Once I started, it wasn’t so bad and the story seemed to write itself. The first one is always hard and definitely was a learning experience, but I would certainly do it again!
That’s great news, because I love the stories in this book. Here’s hoping there’s a Volume II in MFW’s future!
Several of my chapter mates will join us throughout the day to answer our questions about writing short, but in the meantime, do you have any tips?
Also, tell us about your favorite lake or body of water!
Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and just as many love stories. Love in the Land of Lakes brings you seventeen of these stories, from two childhood sweethearts connecting on the end of a dock on a warm summer’s evening, to a city boy’s chaotic weekend at his girlfriend’s primitive cabin. We bring you the story of a savvy horse who leads her owner to love in post–Civil War farm country, and the haunting romance of an ageless gambler who inhabits a historic riverboat and charms the boat’s new owner.
A kaleidoscope of sunshine, snowstorms, and thunderstorms grace our contemporary, mystery, historical, and paranormal stories as the authors of Midwest Fiction Writers spin lovely romances that will send you drifting into happily ever afters.
Love in the Land of Lakes is available in digital format at Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. It’s available in paperback at Amazon, Createspace, and Barnes and Noble
Posted by Liz Bemis Mar 29 2013, 12:00 am in craft, Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, HBO, storytelling
I’d like to put this out there right now. I am NOT cool. I’ve often longed to be cool, but after 40 years on this planet, I recognize that if I do something that seems cool, it probably started out as someone else’s idea, or it was an accident. And so it goes with my recent obsession with Game of Thrones – the HBO TV show. My husband put the first disc in his Netflix queue and I happened to be in the living room when he popped it in the DVD player. However, the reason we watched the whole disk and then haunted the mailbox until the second disk showed up was that it is so, sooooo good. And also, fortunately, we discovered we can watch it with HBO-Go, so now we don’t have to maul the mailman every third day, for which he and the USPS are very grateful.
With the first episode in Season 3 to air this weekend, I feel like one of the “cool kids” because I know what all the hype is about and I share in the excitement – and not just because there are suddenly all sorts of random commercials with baby dragons.
In case you haven’t watched Game of Thrones, (In the words of Inigo Montoya) “Let me esplain… No. There is no time… Let me sum up.” Game of Thrones the TV show is based on a fantasy series by George R.R. Martin called A Song of Fire and Ice (which, for the record, I have not read. All observations are based entirely on the TV Show). The series takes place in a medieval-fantasy/alternate-reality universe that’s filled with a crazy amount of intrigue and so many twists and turns you need a deep breath and an elephant tranquilizer after every episode. (If you want more details than that, you can check out HBO’s Game of Thrones website.)
So here’s what I have learned about compelling storytelling from Game of Thrones. (Note, if you have not seen the series, Spoilers will be given below. Stop reading if this will upset you. You have been warned.)