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Posts tagged with: #amwriting

Just Contempt

Has this ever happened to you?

I read continuously. Sometimes two books at a time. This past week I took my grandsons to the library and even though I have hundreds of books sitting in my office and on my kindle that I’ve not read yet, I had to have another world to step into.  I picked up a book by an author who I recently heard of but never read before and dove in. That evening, after reading twenty odd pages, I closed the book and went to sleep, thinking it’s the beginning. It’ll get better. The author is a NYT best selling author. The book was edited and published by one of the big five houses. One of the two publishers I’d always dreamt of being part of their stable of authors. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

After reading a third of the book, because I was really trying to give this author a chance, I went on-line and read the reviews for this story and was amazed that the majority of reviewers, like seventy-five percent of the people reviewing the story, felt the same way I did about the characters. We didn’t feel anything. Well, maybe contempt for taking up our value time.

I continued to read, skipping paragraphs at first and then pages, looking for some reason to like the characters and continued on, (I’m a determined Scorpio after all), but there was only more whining from the heroine and more one-track sexist thoughts from the hero. This was a suspense for goodness sakes. What about the murderer still at large?  What about some thought about saving lives? Other characters were dying.

At a little over the halfway point, I stopped.  Feeling totally disappointed and annoyed, I closed the book.  I was glad I hadn’t spent money on this book. Will I read this author’s work again? I’m honestly not sure. This wasn’t her first book. It was like her twelfth. If it had been her debut book, then I’d probably give her a second chance to win my loyalty.

I then picked up a book from my TBR pile. One that I’ve been meaning to read for years.  A classic time travel published in the nineteen seventies and within twenty pages I was intrigued by the main characters and the possibility of the plot. I even chuckled at a line. I’m totally enjoying it.

Stories are about people and what happens to them. And for readers to enjoy the story, they MUST connect with the characters. It’s that simple.  It doesn’t matter if the main character is an archeological professor in the 1940’s searching for treasures or an old man on a boat or the widow who inherits a football team.  Readers must like or become invested in them immediately. In order for you, the author, to pull this off, you must know your characters.

There is no right way or wrong way or one way to accomplish this.  My way is to first scan pictures and find physical forms for my characters. It’s easier for me to have conversations with them knowing what they look like. Then I figure out one trait about them my readers will admire and one thing that will connect the character with a large portion of readers by way of relation or sympathy (goals).  Why did I say large portion and not all? Because in the realm of things, humans have very few universal similarities. We all need air, food and water to live. We all have a lineage; ancestors but some of us could care less about our pasts.  Most humans need human connection, but there are those who do not. All of us believe in something, even if it’s not to believe in anything.  A majority of people want to help other humans and or other life forms, but again, there are those who could care less. None of us have live through the all same experiences. We are unique but we do still connect.

After I have those three character’s features, I begin to write my story.  At this point, I don’t know everything about my characters– I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter—but I begin to write the moment when their lives change. As I put them into situations they reveal their innermost desires and fears to me and usually by the black moment I know them like I know myself. During revisions, layering in everything I’ve learned in unique ways is a challenge, but so much fun and so rewarding.

How do you develop a character that readers will love?

Or tell us, why a particular favorite character stands out in your memory? How did the author connect you with him or her?

 

My Muse is an Angsty Teenager – How to Handle Writer’s Block

As writers, at one time or another, we experience writer’s block, that hair-pulling, empty-brained void filled with silent characters, standing around doing nothing. They wait, and you wait for inspiration. Oh, wherefore art thou, muse?!

 

I envision my muse as a teenager (maybe because I live with some of those taciturn creatures). When my muse is happy, energized and “up”,  she dances the night away, spewing witty dialogue and jumping into dramatic, compelling situations. When my muse is apathetic, sad, or “down”, she turns in on herself and refuses to do anything productive. Just like my teenagers.

I am about 25K words into writing my new Scottish historical romance, A Rose With Thorns. Yesterday, I started a new chapter and began to write. My fingers moved slower and slower until they stopped, poised above my keyboard. I re-read what I’d written. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it was…eh? No! Eh won’t do. Where was my muse?

I worked for another hour, tweaking, my fingers pecking at the scene, until I finally surrendered. I had writer’s block.

What causes writer’s block? The malady is as individual as people, but there are some basic reasons behind this frustrating silence.

Fear – Did you read a bad review and worry that your writing sucks? Did you read a great review and worry that you’ll never top the last book you wrote? Did you sign a four-book contract and are now worried that you won’t meet your deadlines? Are you worried that your readers will hate your new characters?

These are all valid fears. Just like a teen worries about friends, posts on social media and school assignments – your muse does too.

Life interference – Illness, moving, relationship problems, weddings, birthday parties, etc. When life gets so busy, your mental to-do list overrides the voices of your characters. Sometimes writing the other to-dos down helps to free up mental space required for writing. Other times, you just have to honor the season you are in, knowing your muse will return once you come out the other side.

Burn out – Have you been writing non-stop, pushing the word counts until your muse holds up an “on-strike” picket sign? Exhaustion, eating poorly, not exercising, basically letting your body atrophy while your brain runs at full speed. Not a good combination.

So, what do you do?

1. Remind yourself that you are fantastic.

“I am a creative and productive writer.”

“My stories are amazing.”

These are positive affirmations. Say them out loud daily to override some of the fear and worry. Writer’s block, as an enemy, employs head games to make you insecure about your ability to write. Time to play some head games back.

2. Treat yourself well. Get sleep, eat something healthy, make yourself a cup of tea and eat a special treat. You don’t need to add insult to injury by punishing yourself for not being able to write. You need to love your creative self no matter how badly it’s behaving.

When my teen is withdrawn and down, I pop a blanket in the drier to warm up. Then I wrap her in it without saying a word. I kiss her head and walk away. It’s me giving her a warm hug when words and pleading will not convince her to be happy and productive. Same with my muse. I must wrap it up and be patient.

3. Plant the seed. When my characters become motionless, waiting for me to figure out what they will do, feel or say next, I plant the setting seeds in my mind and go for a walk. I think – 16th century, Scottish castle, in the library, winter, hero has a tortured past that involves a foolish father, heroine is a fish out of water and feels guilty about… and so forth.

I set it all up in my head and…go for a walk. Or go to bed. Or imagine sitting there in the library with my characters while I wash dishes or take a shower. I’ve planted the seed and once I relax or get the blood pumping to my brain while walking, the characters start to talk.

Again, this can work with my teens too. They seem to ignore my advice, but later I sometimes hear them giving the advice to a friend or quietly trying out my suggestion. Planting the seed and then stepping away from the computer (or teen) can work.

4. Employ a different medium. We are writers, so we tend to be productive sitting before a computer screen. That is until we have writer’s block. Then the computer screen can shut us down even more.

This happened to me just two days ago. My characters weren’t talking much, and I fell into making them perform a scene without much motivation. And it was awful and yes, boring. After an hour of tweaking the scene, I finally left the computer, made some tea, ate a biscotti, and sat down in a different room with a pad of paper and a sharpened pencil.

At the top of the paper, I wrote “Too Tame!! Take RISKS!!” Then I thought – what do I really want my heroine to do and be? I want her to become a 16th century ninja woman – LOL! But suddenly, ideas started to come. Bits of dialogue started to fly in my head – dramatic, fast paced, witty. I jotted all the ideas down, and some final scene ideas came to me, which will show the character arcs for the hero and heroine. Within five minutes, I’d filled both sides of the paper, writing sideways and all over. I’m using everything I wrote.

5. Rouse the senses. When I want to lift myself out of the writer’s block doldrums, I light a candle, listen to music, and look through Pinterest (all the things my angsty teens do to re-energize themselves). I’m a very visual writer, so pictures help me a lot. I make collages of my projects to help me see important details. When Writer’s Block hits, I go back to the internet or look through my folder of picture clippings, and I usually hit upon something that lures my muse back in.

6. Have faithThis is the ultimate remedy to fight writer’s block. We have days when our muses seem to have abandoned us, but we must believe, in our hearts and bones, that they will return. Creativity doesn’t get used up. The synapses that fire our imaginations are still intact. We are writers. It is what we do, but more importantly, it is who we are. Writer’s block is a temporary signal to slow down and deal with whatever issues are going on around us. But the words will return.

Trust in yourself, try some of the above suggestions, and before you know it, your muse will walk beside you once more.

What tricks do you use to conquer writer’s block?

For more information about Heather McCollum and her books, you can find her here:

www.HeatherMcCollum.com

https://www.facebook.com/HeatherMcCollumAuthor/

https://twitter.com/HMcCollumAuthor

https://www.pinterest.com/hmccollumauthor/

 

I’m Not Your Prop

 

If you don’t think secondary characters are as important as the main characters of any story, you would be completely wrong. They are not simply props. They play many important different roles; The side-kick, The Tempter, The Skeptic, The Driver, The Mentor, and The Mixture to name a few. I’ve listed definitions of these roles below.

Often, SC (secondary characters) disclose bits of backstory (truths) which exposes our hero’s motivation for championing a cause. They can unmask aspects of personalities which our characters (not necessarily the heroes) are determined to keep hidden from the world. They can explain why characters make the choices they do. They can do all this in a few words.

 

Sometimes, secondary characters remind the main character of their humanity, shifting their decision in championing a cause and thus changing the plot’s direction.

They remind the cast of characters why the hero’s quest is important, especially when the hero has given up hope.

They can reveal to the reader unseen forces that add to the plot’s mystery or suspense. Or their can throw in a red-herring depending on their own motives.

 

SC can offer the reader hope when none seems possible.

They can hold a memory or essential information and be the key to the hero’s success.

They can offer different perspectives and change the plot, or add another story line. (Sequel?)  

They can be the one whose death exposes the hero’s heart and changes his direction.

Secondary characters have power and authors should take as much time to develop them as they have their heroes.  You should know their backstory even though it’s not be revealed to the reader as much as your main character’s history. Their backstory is what drives them which effects the storyline. Knowing it makes them real and thus gives their words and actions validity. Give them substance!

Don’t confuse secondary characters with extras.  Extras are those characters who walk into a book once or twice. Extras certainly need a voice (not cliché’, unless intended to be so) but their backstory is non-exist to the reader.

Every character is important to the story. They all hold threads to the plot. They all add texture to the overall story.  Take the time to make each as real as possible. Your reward will be a keeper book.   

 

 

The Sidekick

This character represents the faithful friend who always stands by the protagonist.

The Tempter

This character is the right hand of the antagonist. It’s a secondary character that can help you create new subplots and obstacles the protagonist will face throughout the story.

The Skeptic

Although the role of the secondary character who complicates the achievement of the protagonist’s goals is usually taken by the tempter, it doesn’t always have to be like that. Sometimes there are characters who help the antagonist by standing in the protagonist’s way without having anything to do with him.

The Driver

The role of the driver is to make the protagonist act in order to set the plot in motion. When the protagonist has doubts about whether to take a path or not or gets stuck because he doesn’t know what decision to make, it’s the perfect time for the driver to take part in the story. It’s not necessary for the secondary character to solve all of the protagonist’s doubts. It’s much more interesting if the hero only receives clues that lead him to decide which path to take. It’s just a little push because the final decision should rest with the main character (if it didn’t, he wouldn’t gain knowledge from experience).

The Mentor

This secondary character requires special mention. Apart from giving the protagonist a key to solving a particular conflict (which is also the role of the driver), he also has the function of guiding the protagonist (for a longer period of time than the driver) and sharing knowledge at crucial moments in order to return him to the right path.

The Mixture

Not everything is black or white, and the secondary characters we’ve mentioned don’t have to be exclusively limited to their role. Sometimes we can mix different types of characters to create new roles and add depth to the story. The role of the pseudo-villain is a clear example of how mixtures work – the tempter (or helper of the antagonist) redeems himself towards the end of the story and becomes a driver or sidekick who helps the protagonist achieve his goal.

 

NO HOLIDAY IS PERFECT, UNTIL….

IT IS. PERFECT,

WHAT IS 13?

It’s Friday the 13th and today’s topic is fear.

What is fear?

Fear has been defined as a vital response to physical danger. If we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. However, often we fear situations that are not life threatening but pose an emotional danger and thus avoid them in the name of sanity. But by not facing our fears, we are feeding the gluttonous monster.

Think about fear in terms of your desire to write, or your lack of writing. What is stopping you from being who you are? Have you let someone else’s goals become your goals? Are you intimated by the productivity, or success, of others? Did you reach for a star only to it have fade away before you could grasp it?  Did you receive love from an editor or agent and then found that relationship wasn’t meant to last? Has life in general attacked you?

We all let outside factors affect our productivity from time to time. There is no shame it, but at some point, we should recognize that we’re causing ourselves harm by tying ourselves into a knot of stress, and by extension hurting our love ones.

Great works take time and love. You can’t give your muse love if all you feel is angst because….  So you’re not the writer who can pound out three books a year. Personally, when my life is over, I want to be remembered as writing that one memorable book for my readers rather than one-hundred toss away novels. I continue to work on my skill as a writer and I want my next work to be better than my last one.

So you haven’t made USA Today or NYT best seller list. I have my opinions concerning those publishing crowns, which I’ll keep to myself today.  However, if that’s your goal, you’re not done writing yet, right? The next book might hit a list. The same goes with gaining the interest of a publisher or agent.

So life has encroached on your path? We all have priorities. Family and friends top my list. If I walked away from them during times of need to write, I wouldn’t respect myself. I can write any minute of the day and any day of the week. Some of my best ideas came during stressful times.  A truly great story mirrors life. Take notes.

My motto has been since I started writing and continues to be; Word By Word, Line By Line, Page By Page.

So today, on the day others have imposed on us to be fearful of black cats, cracks in the side walk, mom and pop hotels, strangers, bright lights in the sky, let’s examine our fears for what they truly are and then brush them to the side and enjoy our passions.

 

 

Autumn Jordon is sneaker-wearing Ruby who authors light-heart contemporary romances and seat-edging mystery/suspense novels. Her newest release, Perfect Fall is the book of her heart. Check it out at www.autumnjordon.com and while you’re there join her occasional newsletter.   

Make It Real

Our readers do not want to close their eyes. They want them wide open and still feel like they’re stepping onto the pages of our stories. If you read my blog on November 18th, you know we draw our readers into our stories with an emotional connection to our character. But to really make them feel like they’re taking a wild ride on a snowmobile, or walking onto a reality T.V. set, or running through a hot, steamy jungle, or even stepping back into a time past, or feeling something totally overwhelming, like despair or true love, we need to insert senses onto our pages. Not just what they see, hear or feel, but what they taste and smell.

To me, the most stimulating sense is smell. When a familiar waft strikes, I’m immediately transported back to a moment in time and the emotions I felt then come rushing back at me. Again, emotions are how we connect to our readers.

Adding a scent is a powerful tool. Let me give you a personal example of how influential they can be.

Many years ago, while driving home from a farmer’s market late evening, my husband and I came upon an accident involving two vehicles, where the car was in flames. Two little girls were trapped inside, between the cushions of the back seat as the other vehicle had actually mounted the car from the rear. The father of the girls tried desperately to put out the fire while his wife clutched another daughter, who was badly hurt. It became the mission of my husband and others who stopped to help the father, while I was charged with the duty to hold the mother back. She was burnt herself and the leather jacket she wore was seared. I destroyed all my clothes later because of the smell. Every time since that night, if I get a whiff of burn leather or flesh, I’m transported back. As I’m writing this, my chest is constricted, my throat burns, tears blur my eyes and my fingers are trembling. I’m immobilized by a sense of helplessness and an overwhelming sense of grief washes through me.

Powerful?

There is no denying it.

The world is filled with scents and this season doesn’t take a backseat to summer. Take a few moments throughout your days and jot down in a notebook the scents of this holiday season and the emotions it has caused.

Use scents not just to set the setting. Use them to evoke emotion and connect with your reader on a higher level.

 

perfect-box-basic-2Autumn Jordon is an award-winning Ruby, with seven novels published. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and mystery/thrillers. Join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com and receive a free read and be entered into member contests.

Announcing the 2015 September Hour-a-Day Challenge!

Hard to believe, but another summer’s winding to a close.

For many writers, summer’s a slow time, what with family vacations and bored, housebound kids chipping away at their focus. For me, though, summer’s by far the most productive time of the year…because I’m a teacher, and the second I step back into the classroom in August, I barely get to catch my breath until late June.

Last year as I faced the return of my not-for-the-weak-of-heart day job, I vowed not to lose my summer writing momentum entirely: I committed to writing one hour a day for the entire month of September, and I challenged other writers to join me (see my original post here.)

And I did it! I really did it! I wrote an hour a day…well, almost every day. AND I GOT LOTS OF WRITING DONE even while the day job tried its best to crush me. (You can hear me cheering last October 2 here.)

The real, real beauty part was that the daily habit held out beyond September! If you were here for my 2014 NaNoWriMo Mid-Point Check-in and Final Reckoning posts, you know I avoided my usual binge-and-purge approach to getting my 50,000 words, and instead did slow-and-steady almost every day!!

Just take another gander at my final word-count chart (seriously, it felt like a miracle at the time…but a surprisingly do-able miracle):

winner-screen-1024x815It still makes me smile.

And, thanks to the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s Winter Writing Festival (the 2016 edition starts in January!! Watch this space for details!!), I kept up the pace through the dim, dingy months…and finished a new book in April.

YAY!!! The Tortoise beat the Hare for a darned good reason.

Well, I met 128 new students yeseterday, and the educational tidal wave is crashing over me once again. But I’m determined to make my hour a day happen this school year as well.

Who wants to join me for the month of September???

Last year, I set up an Accountability Group on Facebook so we could check in and cheer each other on, and I’d love to do that again.

If you want to join, let me know in the comments below. If we’re already Facebook Friends, I’ll send you an invite to the group. If we’re not, send me a Friend Request and we’ll get the process going.

Write on!!!

The Latest Comments

  • Elisa Beatty: I love hearing all these call stories!!! Keep them coming!!! Congrats again to the Class of 2019!!
  • Elisa Beatty: Congratulations, Crystal!!!! It is truly a blessing…and with depths that won’t even come...
  • Elisa Beatty: Sweet!! I love how you tell that story!! Enjoy every minute!! It’s a fabulous ride!
  • Elisa Beatty: But a happy blur, no doubt!!! Congrats, Kellie!! I hope you enjoyed a nice drink with lots of fruit and...
  • Elisa Beatty: LOL…those danged telemarketers always know when it’s Golden Heart day. So glad the Good...

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