Saturday, June 18, 2011

Newton's Three Laws of Motion

Newton's First Law of Motion:
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to stay in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

Newton's Second Law of Motion
The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma.

Newton's Third Law of Motion
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Okay - I know what you are thinking.  I thought that this was a blog about writing, not physics.  Why are you talking about Newton's three laws of motion?  Well, if you stop and think about it, you will realize that Newton would have made a great fiction writer.  He figured some of the basic requirements of great phy-ction writing (okay - bad joke, I know).

So how does physics apply to fiction writing?  Let's take a look.  First - an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.  So let's assume that the object is your reader.  In theory, you want your reader to start at the beginning of your book and keep reading through to the end.  You don't want something to detract from their reading experience.  So what might this external force be?  Well, unfortunately, the reading universe is littered with them.  Poor grammar and spelling seems to be one I am seeing more and more with the advent of self publishing.  Another is back story - or rather, too much back story (yes, I have a hang up about back story because it has been a problem in my writing that I am trying to stop!).  Lack of structure is another outside force as is poor character development.  There are many more, too many to list, but it is imperative that you become aware of these potential landmines which may draw your reader out of the story and fail to allow them to come back in.  Remember, an object in motion stays in motion....

Newton's second law is F=ma.  So what does this have to do with writing?  This represents the conflict in your story.  If you don't have conflict, then you have no acceleration in the story.  A story must have F (conflict) between the objects (characters), in order to have acceleration.  Okay, that's F/m=a, but still, you get the idea.  Conflict is what moves the story forward.  It's what makes your reader want to keep reading through the next chapter rather than turning out the light.  Each character has their own conflicts with which they need to deal.  There are external conflicts which occur between the characters, but internal conflicts that the character must battle within themselves.  Often, the external conflicts and external conflicts work against one another.

Finally, Newton's third law - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This is an easy one.  When you are developing a scene there are two basic types of scenes.  Proactive and reactive.  For every action (proactive scene) there is an equal and opposite reaction (reactive scene).  When something happens, the character needs time to think about what happened and decide what his or her next move is going to be.  Every scene though, should move the story forward (this brings us back to Newton's first law - once your story is in motion, it needs to stay in motion).  For the most part, your scenes will be proactive/reactive alternating - constantly carrying your story forward and moving it towards its climax.  Look at each of your scenes, determine if they are reactive or proactive.  If they are neither, ask yourself, should this really be here.  Sometimes the answer may be yes.  It may actually be a proactive or reactive scene that just needs a little tweaking.  Or it might have significant back story (not too much!) that is building up to something happening.  But if your scene does not fit into the proactive or reactive mold, it needs to be looked at carefully.

So, moral of the story - if you remember Newton's laws of motion, you are moving in the right direction.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Information Dump

Recently I went through a critique session with some of my new colleagues from the RCRW.  I must say that it was an eye opening experience.  First of all, I'd like to mention that I've found myself among a group of extremely talented people.  The pieces of work that I read were positively amazing!  While I think that everyone in the group shows promise, there is one writer in particular that I honestly believe will be among published authors within the next few years and I will be happy to say that she slashed my work to shreds :).

Having other people critique your work is incredibly helpful.  I gained incredible insight into my work that I would have never seen myself, and this has helped me to improve upon what I have already written.  Besides many annoying quirks that I have that I can now avoid, thanks to their comments, I have also found that I am prone to information dumps.  A few people have pointed this out, but I think now I get it. 

Now here's my thought on information dumps.  They aren't bad.  Okay - WAIT!  Before you start getting your panties in a twist, let me finish.  If you are a pantser like me (someone who writes by the seat of her pants and then goes back and figures out what to do with it), they are akin to the character interviews that more structured individuals like to partake in.  The information dumps are a great way to learn about the characters pasts.  To really get close to the character and understand what your characters think and what motivates them.  However - it is also important to recognize them as information dumps.  My information dumps have become very structured (yay W).  Thanks to the many books, conferences, and classes I have participated in, I have learned how to structure a scene.  My information dumps have a goal, they accomplish what they should, the characters are doing what they are supposed to be doing - but here's the key, they contain information that the reader does not need to know.  Sure, the information may be interesting, it may be some of the best writing in the book, but if it doesn't advance the overall goal of the character (not the scene goal - the overall goal), then the reader just doesn't need to know.

I think the key is, knowing when to dump your dumps.  As long as you can distinguish when the scene advances the goal, and when it is something that you wrote for your own benefit - then information dumps can be a very positive thing.  One man's trash....

Friday, May 13, 2011

Picked up stitch....

Okay, so despite my review of Lynsay Sands book A Quick Bite in my last blog, I decided to go on and read another of her books, A Bite to Remember.  I *thought* this was her second book, but apparently it's her 5th in the Argeneau vampire series.  

This book was a huge improvement on the previous book I read.  Here, we have Vincent, the protagonist vampire, and Jackie, the mortal who fears vampires due to an experience when she was young.

The beginning starts strong, Vincent owns a acting production company where a saboteur is ruining his productions, progressively becoming more and more vicious in the process.  He wants to stop the saboteur so he can get back to work.  Clear goal.  Jackie and her partner Tiny are hired to find the saboteur.  Her goal, though the same as Vincent's, is for a very different reason.  She is a detective, she was hired to find the saboteur.  This is her job.  Again, clear goal.  Now, you might say - same goal, no good.  Not true.  They may have the same goal, but they have the goal for very different reasons.  This is good.

Now, throughout the course of the book, we discover certain things about the characters.  There is a little overflow of backstory describing why Jackie is not completely comfortable with vampires and why, despite her attraction to Vincent, she refuses to see him as a romantic interest (other than the whole employer/employee thing).  While the backstory is imperative to the plot, I felt that it could have been incorporated a little better rather than just one single backstory dump, but still.  Her characters are still a bit shallow, but better in this one, and I appreciate that she keeps the cast list small and easily manageable.  At the end of the book there was a large influx of seemingly unnecesary characters that I was unsure about, but due to their small role, I didn't feel that it really detracted from the story. 

This story also had a clear structure.  I have studied the W plot of Karen Docter, and the three act structure as described in Fiction Writing for Dummies.  Both run parallel.  The structure in this book works really well in that regard.  There is  a clear movement from one act to the next and a clear escalation of circumstances.

There were some good complexities in this story as well - like the last one however, there was a sort of Deus Ex Machina ending - the "coincidence" that solves the crime that was a bit too fortuitous to be believable, but this book shows a great contrast in writing.  The story lines are similar, but I think to look at this book, and compare it to the one that I described before is really a great study in how you can turn a troubled manuscript into something workable.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dropped stitches....

Okay - So I haven't really been reading Pale Demon for all this time (for those of you who actually pay attention to my "reading now" books - and yes, I'm still reading Fiction Writing for Dummies because it's on my daughter's Kindle and she won't give it up!).  The truth of the matter is that I really wanted to post something on Pale Demon because it has a great W Plot and gives a wonderful demonstration of hero's journey.  So I thought, I would post that "review" and take it down.  The truth is, I have read The Other Side of the Grave by Jeaniene Frost which I loved because the big bad guy was a sniveling loser just like UBL - I thought it rather apropos, and then I read a hand me down from my sister - A Quick Bite by Lynsay Sands.

I think that it is important to have both positive examples and negative examples from which to learn.  I am a college professor and I routinely in class take student papers and shred them in front of the class.  We tear them apart, analyze them, figure out everything that is wrong with them, and then put them back together.  Now, this may seem heartless and cruel, but the truth is, I only do it for students that volunteer their papers for review, and I am never short of volunteers.  I sometimes have to have raffles to see who the lucky "winner" is that will get reemed in class.  And amazingly, the students consistently report that they learn more from ripping apart the bad examples, then from looking at the plethora of "good" examples that we, as educators give to them.

Why is this?  Well, the truth is, we are all making these same mistakes.  We can see what the good example is, and we see that our bad example doesn't match the good example, but we don't always know why.  So, I think that it's important to share with you some examples that I consider to be bad examples (not mine :D )

***********  SPOILER ALERT  ***************

So this brings me to Ms. Sands novel.  This was definitely not a keeper.  It was okay, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't great.  Kim Harrison is great.  Adrian Phoenix is great.  Jeaniene Frost is great.  Why? Because their characters are well developed, they have clear goals, and they have clear structure.  So why don't I put Ms. Sands on my keeper shelf?  Well, to begin with, the goals are not clearly developed.  It would seem that, at the beginning, the hero is trying to get to his vacation spot (Cancun, I believe), and the heroine is trying to cure her phobia.  So far, so good.  We have some clear cut goals.  But then after a while, the hero's (Dr. Hewitt) flight is cancelled, and apparently so is his goal. 

Oh, but wait - then he has to convince the heroine that she wants to spend the rest of forever with him.  But that *can't* be the goal because we can't have love as a primary goal in a romance (now I know why).  So basically, we have the rest of the book with the hero trying to get into the heroine's pants (or panties).  Then, we have the antagonist.  Some floundering misled priest who thinks the heroine is a vampire (which she is).  But all of his tests to see if she is a vampire, fail.  And yet he still pursues her - subtly and silently.  The conflict is practically absent. Plus, it's so obvious throughout the book who the antagonist is and what's going on and yet the heroine is totally oblivious to it - DUH!  He does everything but smack her in the face ... that is until the end when he points a gun at her and accuses her of being a vampire. 

Then, when all seems lost (rug pull here), her family swoops in and saves her and her vampire lover (did I tell you she turned him into a vampire?) with barely an explanation of how they found her, staked out on the porch of a house in the middle of nowhere.  And everyone lives happily ever after (except that her phobia isn't cured, Dr. Hewitt never gets to Cancun although he does convince her to marry him, and the priest's mind is wiped so he doesn't remember a thing - how convenient - and he goes on ministering to the poor). Ugh! 

So, if you are looking for a book with minimal character development, too much back story and exposition (did I forget to mention the chapter exhaustively explaining where vampires came from, why she is afraid of blood *and* marriage?), and a weak, soggy antagonist, then look no further.  This will explain to you in clear detail why you spend hours and hours pining away at that one last chapter, and developing your story, and making sure it flows.  I strongly recommend it as an example of what *not* to do. (Definitely NC17 rating)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Structuring a scene...

So it's all starting to make sense.  Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot to learn, but the pieces are staring to fall into place.  I think I'm starting to see the light. When you write a novel, it's not just about the finished piece.  It's about all the little pieces that make up that final finished work.  I grew up in Chicago.  I spent a lot of time at the Art Institute.  Its one of the places you can walk to easily from the train.  As a result, my friends and I would take the train downtown on the weekends and walk to the Art Institute to explore its many exhibits.  When you go into the museum, there is a stairway in front of you.  At the top of the grand stairway, there is a room that houses the most amazing piece of art I have ever seen.  It is A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte  by Geoge Seurat.

This piece exemplifies the idea of the parts making up the whole.  It also shows how important it is to choose the correct parts to ensure the proper flow.  Each individual point works by itself as an individual dot, each image working alone as a beautiful image in and of itself, but then, as you move further and further from the image, the whole picture becomes apparent as a masterpiece.

Likewise, in your novel, each scene should be able to stand alone.  Each scene in your book should have its own purpose for existing.  It should move the story forward.  It should tell it's own story.  It should have its own POV, and the characters should have their own goals.  If your scenes do not do this, then they either need to be rewritten, or they need to be deleted.  No scene, no line, no word, should exist within your book without a purpose.  Each piece exists for a reason and each works with the others to create a masterpiece.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Breaking the Rules

Okay, so I'm trying to resolve some conflict I'm having about some comments I've been making lately.  See, I read my little books about what all the good little boy and girl writers are supposed to do, and then I read my "fun" books and I go through my little analyses. 

See, I'm a college professor by trade so I'm used to grading things.  And as a general rule, I grade things "by the book."  I don't give a lot of leeway for creative thinking because you have to learn how to do things by the rules before you can break them.  Because I teach primarily 100 and 200 level courses, that doesn't leave a lot of room for breaking the rules.  Well, as a writer, I really fall into the 100 level course load (if I even fall into the college level courses - frankly, I think I'm still in Kindergarten and running with scissors, or maybe eating glue).

So here's where I'm going with this.  I read what I like, regardless of the "rules" and I find that this is true of *most* people.  For instance, I haven't reviewed my book on here because quite frankly I'm frightened of what I might say, but overall, the feedback from readers has been pretty positive.  That doesn't mean I'm not going to try to follow the rules on the next book and do better, but readers like what they like.

Another example would be Adrian Phoenix, she definitely breaks the rules - I mean talk about Queen of Backstory - but that doesn't mean I'm not jonesing for her next novel.  And then there are people who are very good at following the rules - Tom Clancy is a great example.  But really, I find myself nodding off whenever I try to read a Tom Clancy novel (though they do make great movies).

As a college professor, I know as well that there comes a time when you know the rules well enough that it's okay to break them.  And really, as a writer, I think that you *must* break the rules.  If every writer followed the same mold, there would be nothing new and exciting to read, it would be the same old story over and over and over again.  Well, okay - really it is, but the story teller is what makes the story unique and makes it come alive!  How do they do that?  They break the rules - or maybe they bend them a little.

See, that's the thing - how do writers do what they do so well?  Does every book on your keep shelf follow *all* of the rules?  Or can some of the rules be broken?  Are there some rules that are absolutely set in stone, and some that are mere guidelines? And if so, how do we know the difference?  How do we, as newbies, find our own voice in this world of rules and more rules?  The more I learn, the more I find myself locked in a prison of words.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Great study in goals, plotting and character development....

So, part of the reason I blog is because I'm trying to become a better author. In doing that, one of the important things to recognize the good examples when you see them. I'd like to offer an excellent example in all this goal, plotting, character development jungle.

Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is an outstanding example of not only goals, but plotting and character development. So, here are the main characters: first you have Carpenter, he died because he was drunk and fell out a window. He ended up in Hell, but not so much. You see, it's Dante's Hell, and well, Carpenter ended up in the outer circle, not so much because he's a bad guy, but because he doesn't believe in God. Then you have Benito. That would be Benito Mussolini. Yup - you read that right. We all know why he died, and can pretty much guess why he's in Hell. Then of course, you have the Devil and his Minions. These are the bad guys. Yeah, that's right, Benito is a good guy. (If that's not enough to get you to read this book, I don't know what is). So anyway, Carpenter and Benito want to get out of Hell. Actually, let me explain, Benito wants to help Carpenter get out of Hell, because that's what he does. He's not so much trying to escape as trying to get Carpenter to the exit. Now Carpenter on the other hand, is trying to get out - at least, that's how it all starts out. Of course, the Devil and his Minions are trying to stop them from succeeding at their goal. What He wants to do is put them in their proper place - that's right, Dante's Hell, seven rings, the whole shebang.

So throughout the book, we meet up with other characters. Some of them we know and love, like Billy the Kid, and others, not so much - like the catatonic woman, but they all challenge Carpenter as he makes his way through Hell to the Exit (yes, I capitalized that). But along the way, Carpenter has sort of an epiphany as he meets and gets to know people in each of the seven levels. And by the end, Carpenter has grown and learned something about himself.

Truly, it's brilliant. The goal is as clear as day. I mean, throughout the book Carpenter says several times that he wants to get out of Hell, but his emotional growth is where we learn about character development. And the obstacles that are put in his way challenge his morals and his beliefs and force him to look at himself. It's really a great study for anyone who is challenged in character development, goal setting and plotting. And for a great follow up, try Escape from Hell.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A little help from my friends....

Have I told you that this writing thing is hard? I mean really...really...hard? Well, like I told you, I went to this retreat over the weekend where I was lucky enough to listen to some wonderfully talented people discuss the ins and outs of character development and plotting. What's that you ask? Well, remember all that stuff you used to do in English where your teacher would ask "what was the author thinking about here?" And your response was "well maybe the author wasn't thinking about anything...maybe the author was just writing stuff." Well, turns out the author really was thinking. And thinking...and thinking...and writing...and then thinking some more... and then rewriting...and then throwing things in the trash....

So anyway, I'm learning about the thinking part. It turns out that authors do a lot of that. Thinking, and planning. So ever since Saturday, I've been thinking, because I really do want to improve my writing. It's not good enough to just write for the sake of writing. While that's cool and all, I really want to put out a quality product. I've built up a small following of fans and it wouldn't do any good to write a substandard book. I mean, when you read most authors, you can see how they've grown and developed in their writing style from book to book. So that's what I'm shooting for, growing and developing. So one thing that I was lacking was a goal for my characters. What do my characters want? You may be thinking, who cares? That was my first thought. Truly, I was thinking, who cares? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of the books I really loved, the books I cherished and read over and over, well, the characters all had goals. They had some final destination they wanted to be.

So I kept asking myself, what does Jewell want? I thought about it when I woke up in the morning, when I was driving in the car, when I was making dinner, while I folded clothes, and even while I was reading. The only time I wasn't thinking about it was when I was working. I walked down the aisles at the grocery store asking my 11 year old daughter, "what does Jewell want?" Sitting at Sonic waiting for dinner "What does she want?" Well, that's when my sweet, beautiful daughter, laid out the whole plot for me. I had been racking my brain for weeks, trying to figure this out and my sweet little daughter figured it out for me in five minutes.

Okay, granted, I had been using her as a sounding board for the entire time, but still...she was able to see the trees that I had apparently been missing in the forest. So now I see the benefit of having a brainstorming partner. It doesn't have to be an author, but it has to be someone willing to listen, and input ideas. I use my husband for my medical ideas, and I have yet another for my conspiracy theories. It's important to have people there to help you with your writing, because as much as we want to say "I did it all by myself" having a little help from your friends, can be invaluable.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

RCRW Retreat....

Basket Raffle Winners
So - I have just returned from my first *official* writers retreat.  It was a full day conference beginning this morning bright and early at 8:00 and I did not leave until after 8:00 this evening.  It was a very long day but it was positively full of great information!  So, in the picture above you see all of the basket winners.  On the bottom left you will see Deb Dixon - of GMC fame!  Yes, she was one of our speakers!  She owns (or runs) a publishing company and gave us some brilliant advice on the publishing industry.  She was even kind enough to give me some advice on a book my daughter is working on!  More on Deb's talk later though....

Me and Karen Docter
First, we had a talk with Karen Docter on The "W" Plot.  I will have to say that this was great because one of the things that I have been learning about in my book Fiction Writing for Dummies is the 3 scene or 3 act book.  Basically, your book should be divided into 3 main parts with some key action occurring in each part, with an escalation in each.  Karen Docter elaborated or elucidated upon this idea by introducing the W.  So basically, what you have is that the 3 points of the W are the characters' 3 high points, and then the bottom points of the W being the characterss low points.  Of course, your main characters should each have a W, and then your plot or romance gets a W too.  Then, there's the antagonist (or villain) who gets an M.  Obviously, when your character is in a high point, your villain is in a low point, and vice versa.  But ultimately, the villain should end down, and the main characters should get a happily ever after. 

She also was really awesome in helping us with defining character goals.  Now, this is a real sore spot for me because about 3 copies of my sequel have been "filed" in the circular file because my characters lack goals.  Yeah - I get it.  I'm sorry to say that I still don't know my characters' goals (Karen gave me the advice to start from the end and work my way back - someone else told me that too....), but it seems that whenever I try to think about what my characters really want, I end up realizing that this or that can't work.  Karen spent a lot of time working with me individually, and it really helped me work toward solidifying where I need to go with this.  One thing though, that I realized, is that I am not the only one that struggles with goals.  Other people didn't know what their goals should be, and some had trouble grasping the idea of what a goal really was.  I guess that made me feel a little less like I didn't belong, and I think a lot of us really moved closer to defining those character and story goals.

Of course, once you have goals, then you need to determine your motivation, and conflicts.  For me, this is the easy part - I have a whole list of conflicts, and if I can ever nail down those goals, motivation will come.  Some of us were challenged with this as well though and Karen did a great job of explaining how we can figure out our motivations and conflicts once we have our goals. 

Then, after all we figure all this out, we get to the W.  I never made it this far.  I'm still stuck at the goals, but I can't wait until I get to start playing with my Ws and Ms!
Me and Debra Dixon

Deb Dixon of Belle Books spoke to us about the difference between publishing with a "Big 6" publisher and a small press publisher. It was really a great talk.  I thought that I had done a lot of research on this industry when I was trying to publish my book.  I did my research, I sent my manuscript out to agents, I was rejected, and I went to self publishing.  One thing though that was really great was that, had I actually found an agent when I first started sending out my manuscript, I would have been ill prepared to sign a contract.  I think this is important because as an attorney with 10 years experience, and having had my start in theater, I thought that I was prepared for finding an agent and publisher for my book.  I realize now how little I knew.  I had barely skimmed the surface as to what publishers really do.  I mean, I know they publish books, and I always felt that they should do some level of copy editing, cover design and marketing, but after the research I had found, I think I could have very easily been taken for a ride.

Deb explained that there are the "Big 6."  These are the publishers that everyone knows.  Hatchette Book Group, HarperCollins, MacMillan, Penguin Group, Random House, and Simon Schuster.  Now, what's cool about the Big 6 is that they pay huge advances (sometimes), they have huge marketing budgets (sometimes), and their books are the ones that end up on the shelves of every bookseller across the nation (sometimes).  That's right, sometimes.  They are also too big to notice and give personal attention to *every author they sign.*  So if you make it with them - awesome.  But you had better be prepared to put out.  And if you don't, you can't take it personally if they drop you.

Now, the smaller publishing houses come in three flavors; National, Regional, and Digital First or Digital Only.  With National, you get better distribution, better advances, but they do smaller print runs than the bigger houses.  Some of their books may end up Nationally.  With Regional or Niche publishers, you usually have a mom and pop publisher.  They may only publish certain types of books, like Memphis Gardening - or Cooking with Kudzu. These publishers will only sell locally or to very limited markets. Then, there's the Digital First/Only.  These may have huge distribution but they pay little to no advances, and they usually don't invest much in their books.  However, they  may have a very loyal following.

So, how do you know which publisher is best for you?  Well, if you don't have a very marketable idea, but are still set on publishing - self publish.  There's no rejection, no editing demands (expcept those you impose upon yourself), no marketing (except what you do for yourself), and the only advance is the money you pay in advance to having your book published.  If you do it right, this can be really reasonable.  This is the way I went for my first book, and the way I will publish my daughter's book that she is writing (on Deb's advice).  I'm not sure about my sequel though.  It's going to have to hit some new levels before I feel like it is ready for the agent/publisher world.

Now, if you have a great idea and you have an agent, and you have a publisher that is interested in you, do you go with the Big 6, or the smaller publishing house?  Well first, is a Big 6 publisher offering you a contract?  If so, you might do well to go there, but if you demand personal service and you want a company that is going to focus on you, and focus on selling your book for the long term, you may want to consider a smaller house.  A smaller house is going to be more interested in the long term success of your book (probably) than the big 6, but this is something that - if the situation arises, you really need to speak to someone about.

So the long and the short of it your character development, do your goal setting, write a *great* book, find an agent, then worry about it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Off topic thoughts....

There are some people in this world  that will go out of their way to help someone even though it doesn't benefit them in any way.  All it does is give them a bit of a warm fuzzy feeling for doing something nice.

But sometimes when we see another person hurting, there is so little that we can do to help.  We want so badly to reach out and shoulder some of that pain, to take the the hurt from them.  It is so hard to watch helplessly as another suffers knowing that there is nothing we can do.

To my friend who offered me kindness and help even though you had no obligation.  You have given me so much.  I wish I could give you more, but this note is to let you know that I am thinking about you and your family and hope that my thoughts offer a little solace in your time of uncertainty.

Meet Tim...the Red Shirt

Any good Trekkie knows that the Red Shirts aren't supposed to be main characters in the show.  They have a name, and they have lines (sometimes), but their primary purpose is to die so that the main characters don't have to. 

So, the purpose of a scene in a book is to move things forward.  It's to give the reader new information, expose them to something important, and basically advance the story.  Something that I have learned from my meandering through the books that have been written on good writing is that you don't put something in a book just to put it there.  It must have a reason, a goal.  According to Debra Dixon there should be 3 reasons for a scene, and she gives a list of potential reasons indicating that it is potentially endless.  She also gives a list of three very distinct purposes for the scene.

So that brings me back to Tim, the red shirt.  I'm reading Etched in Bone by Adrian Phoenix.  Last night I read a chapter where the whole scene revolves around Tim and how he is going to "effing die" or whatever.  He dwells on that idea *a lot* in this scene.  In fact, it gets rather repetitive.  After several pages of Tim, the red shirt dwelling on his impending doom the holy, holy, holy creature emerges from the hole and scares the living daylights out of everyone allowing Tim to make a bolt for freedom.  (Okay, so maybe Tim wasn't technically a red shirt - perhaps he will reappear at some later point in the story to tell his tale of doom on the Mike and Jill Carr Radio Show - we can only hope that he had some other purpose than to effing introduce the appearance of the effing monster from the effing hole).  So my question becomes, first, what is the purpose of the scene?  My thought is perhaps it changes one of the character's goals (Kaplan or Slade - not sure I remember who either of these characters are), or it may bring someone into conflict with opposing forces.  I guess that remains to be seen.  Again though, this brings up another point.  WAAAAY too many characters. Who are Kaplan and Slade?  I just don't remember.  And why bring up Tim?  Is he going to be (yet another) character in the ever growing list?

Which brings me to another point.  There's that narrative thing which Adrian Phoenix (usually) does so well.  Yesterday I was reading my newsletter from RWA and they mentioned the concept of using italics for inner dialog.  The argument was that readers don't want to read large chunks of italicized text and are often inclined to skip it.  Well, usually, Adrian Phoenix does a great job of including small chunks of italicized text to relate to the readers things that are going on in Dante's head or things that have happened in the past.

Yesterday, however, I read a *whole chapter* of italicized text and frankly, I was quite inclined just to skip over it because not only was it all in italics, but it was a whole chapter of information that I've read over and over and over.  It was talking about Heather's mom and the night she died.  Now, this particular chunk of italicized text had just a wee bit of new information in the end (which I won't share with you due to spoilers) but really?  A whole chapter of replicated information for one sentence of new information?  And really, the new information didn't do anything at all with regards to Heather's goal.  It didn't change her goal (no new information), it didn't bring her into conflict with opposing forces (all characters in dream are already dead), *maybe* it strengthened her motivation....maybe.   But really, there was only one sentence in that whole chapter that related to that.  ONE.  Couldn't that chapter have been just a wee bit more creative?  Maybe given me something new to think about instead of feeding me information I already had?  Then, as far as the three reasons for the scene - just didn't see it.  Didn't get it at all.  Seems to me, on this one, she was trying to meet her publisher's word count requirement.

Now, you are probably wondering - who am I to criticize?  Well, I'm no one.  But, I have been a student long enough to know that the best way to learn is by example.  Adrian Phoenix is one of my favorite writers.  While it's tough to critique someone you admire, it's also a great way to learn.  If can critique someone you respect, it makes it easier to critique your own work.  Try it!  Remember, you never stop learning.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

GMC...The Challenge

From Goal Motivation & Conflict: The building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon. (pg 117)
  1. Take ten to fifteen minutes to work up a GMC on one character. Create a completely new character and do not use the story you are currently working on
  2. Write a scene.  Allow yourself one hour to show GMC and get the book started.  The trick is to do this in the shortest amount of page space possible.  SHOW DON'T TELL.  And don't put more time into this exercise than one hour.
  3. The only unbreakable rule: Somewhere in the scene, your character must utter the phrase, "What's mine is mine, what's yours is up for grabs."
So this is the result of my exercise:

Kathleen’s knee’s shook as she walked into the conference room.  Her court appointed counsel looked shabby among the high powered attorneys that populated the room.  The mahogany conference table was polished to a glossy finish and surrounded by black leather and chrome chairs.  She looked down at the second hand dress she purchased from Goodwill yesterday in anticipation of this meeting.  It was clean, and fit well, but didn’t convey the image of the woman she knew she was; strong, confident, well educated and powerful.  Her hands strayed to the short curls that had so recently been long enough to pull into a power bun; the burns on her ear and neck reminding her why it was no longer long and beautiful.  She thought of the suits that hung in her closet, untouched since the night she had fled for her life, leaving her children against her better judgment.  What had she been thinking?  How could she leave her babies with that monster?

At the gentle touch of the mousy man standing next to her, she moved from the doorway into the center of the pool of sharks.  They circled her, scenting their prey.  She stiffened, cowering behind one of the leather chairs for safety, relying on the meek and mild mannered man next to her to come to her rescue.  Despite the posturing of the lions, he stood tall, staring down these men that were poised to attack.  He pulled out her chair for her, gifting her with a reassuring smile as he gestured for her to sit, barely glancing at her black eye as she removed her dark sunglasses.  The cast on her arm made it difficult for her to fold her glasses and put them in her purse, so she settled for resting them on the table in front of her, hiding her broken hand under the table.

Suddenly, the air shifted, and everyone turned.  Lifting her eyes, Kathleen saw him.  He was as beautiful as she remembered that day she met him.  She was a real estate agent selling high end homes in Boca Raton.  She had just started her own firm having broken ties with the firm she was working with in New York.  Things had been difficult to start.  She lived in her car during the first month, and then spent nights in the homes she was showing.  When she finally sold her first property, it was a six million dollar beach front house with a six percent commission; she was on her way.  She met Asher Jake when she was working with her thirteenth client.  That should have been the first sign.  Asher was her client's “newest discovery” on a project they were working on.  He brought Asher along to help him decide “which condo was chick worthy.”  That should have been the second sign.  It was easy to overlook these now oh, so obvious signs though because Asher was perfect in every way.  Not only was he every woman’s physical dream come true, but he was the perfect gentleman.

Within the month, Asher proposed.  He was an up and coming movie star, soon to be famous, gorgeous, and treated Kathleen like a queen.  There was just one catch.  Kathleen had to sign a prenuptial agreement.  Of course, this was to protect her, he said – because she had all the money. It was nothing personal, just business.  Kathleen understood.  After less than a year in business on her own, she had made not only a name for herself, but she had a few million of her own in the bank.  A prenup would protect her, it was just business.  The first year Asher worked hard, going on auditions, handing out resumes and tried to get noticed.  They lived comfortably off of Kathleen’s income, but promoting Asher in his new capacity cost money.  Soon, they were living paycheck to paycheck.

But then Asher made it big and most of his work was in California, so Kathleen gave up her real estate practice to move so they could live where Asher could get work.  Besides, Asher was making enough money for both of them, there was no reason for her to work, and after the kids were born, well, it just made more sense for her to stay home with them.  But then Asher started to change.  It was the little things at first.  He had a lot of jobs that were filmed on location.  Before the kids were born, Kathleen always went with Asher to the shoots, but afterwards, well, it was just too much stress on the kids, he said.  Then he would spend more time at the studio when he was filming at home. When she started questioning him, he would get angry.  When she demanded answers, he became violent.  When she found out the truth…

She glanced at Asher as he deliberately sat in the empty seat directly in front of her.  When she caught his eye he mouthed the word “prenup” and grinned wickedly.

His lawyers began the conversation “as per the prenuptial agreement, Ms. Jake is entitled to nothing.  Asher Jake is also entitled to sole custody of the children.  Ms. Jake is entitled to visitation on the weekends and every other Federal holiday.  We’ve drawn up a list of the assets.  The house and its contents were purchased with Mr. Jake’s earnings.  Thus, those belong to Mr. Jake.  Mr. Jake will allow Ms. Jake to keep her clothing and other personals, and Mr. Jake has consented to let her keep the BMW.  If you’ll just sign here, we can conclude this meeting rather quickly.”

Kathleen started to reach for the pen knowing full well what was in the agreement, after all, her attorney had drafted it, but her hand was stayed by her shy and quiet representative.  “As you know, the agreement does not apply if either party is forced to leave the marriage due to infidelity or assault.”

Asher smirked.  Kathleen looked at the table.  She hadn’t filed a police report the night she fled, fearing for the lives of the children she had left behind.  If she filed a police report, he had said, he would kill the children.  The infidelity was her word against his, unless she would come forward, and Kathleen doubted that would happen.  Jake had been too careful in his pursuits.  Even Kathleen hadn’t been certain until she made the accusation.

Slowly, deliberately, Kathleen’s reserved attorney pulled his briefcase into his lap.  Drawing a cell phone from the front pocket he pushed several buttons looking serene as he searched for the evidence that would save his client.  Placing the iPhone in the center of the table, Kathleen heard her screams echo through the plush conference room.  Knowing that even as they sat there police were on the way to the house to take custody of the children Kathleen rose, once again the strong, confident, powerful woman of her past.  Asher seemed to melt into his chair as she glared at him.  Smuggly, she said “What’s mine is mine.  What’s yours…is up for grabs.”  Turning on her heel, she strode, tall and confident, from the conference room.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

First lines and backstory

"Call me Ishmael"
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair"

Let's face it, many a great novel start with a great line, a memorable line.  Something that not only captures the reader and draws him in, but stays with him long after he has finished reading and lingers, long into posterity.  I speak of this because yesterday on Facebook, Smashwords asked us "Smashers" (that's what we are called) to post the first line of our 4th chapter.  So you're thinking - the fourth chapter?  Who cares?   The first line of my 4th chapter was "Jewell walked into the women’s locker room at the hospital."  This is a rather boring, non-descript line.  So I looked at the first line of the 4th chapter of the book I'm currently reading "Etched in Bone" by Adrian Phoenix "Fury pulsed through Dante like blood."  Wow!  So I flipped to a random chapter - 10 "The trumpet blast faded, rumbling across the horizon like long rolling thunder." Wow!  16 "Dante steered himself toward Bourbon street, hunger drumming a savage tempo through his veins."  You get my point. So I started reaching for other books, and I began to see a pattern emerge.  Sure, every once in a while there was a mundane line, but for the most part, the first lines of chapters hit you like the first lines of books.  There is nothing mundane about the first line of a chapter.

Now a few words about backstory and bringing your character's past into the present.  Adrian Phoenix does this in a way that may or may not work for many authors.  There are three things she does.  First, Dante, the main character, was the subject of experimentation when he was young.  Throughout the story, she has the other characters in the book review his files, thereby bringing bits and pieces of Dante's past into the present.  The second thing she does is flashbacks.  Dante slips into the past periodically, having difficulty distinguishing present situations from past situations.  These all help to catch the reader up on things that we have not read before.  The third thing she does helps to remind the reader of things that have happened in her previous books.  When reflecting on something that has occurred previously, she will flashback and actually include text from the previous incident in her writing.  She actually uses these three elements very effectively, however - I would warn most writers away from her style of writing.  Somehow, I feel that if most people could do this easily, they would.  It seems to me that this use of flashback is difficult to master.

For us newbies, narrative backstory such as that used by Adrian Phoenix would probably bore and alienate the reader.  Thus, we need to find more creative ways (or perhaps different creative ways) to let our readers know the important parts of our characters' pasts.  And that's the key word "important."  The reader doesn't need to know everything.  The reader only needs to know those things that affect the character's decisions or the character's motivation for reaching the goal.  You, on the other hand, should know all of the mundane details about your character, because that will help you to understand what drives your character.

I know - this isn't the Blarney Stone
as I have kissed the real thing,
hanging upside down atop Blarney
Castle in County Cork Ireland, but it
showed the legend and it's a cool pic!
 So how do we let the reader know about the character's past?  Well, a little narrative, a little dialog, a little inner dialog, and perhaps a little prayer to the writing gods.  I also suggest you kiss the Blarney Stone as it is well known that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone will be sent forth with the gift of eloquence.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Do you remember Pretty Woman?  In the beginning, Angel is interviewing roommates and she says "You gotta have a goal.  Do you have a goal?"  That's true about everything isn't it?  Yesterday my boss emailed me and tells me that I have to do my annual goal setting worksheet for work.  Every year, we have to fill out a little sheet that lists our goals - what we hope to accomplish in our jobs by the end of the year.  When we wake up in the morning, whether we realize it or not, we have goals.  A list of tasks we hope to get accomplished by the end of the day.  It may be getting the house clean, getting the grocery shopping done, doing a load of laundry, or simply making it through the day without having a nervous breakdown.  Regardless, we all have our goals.

Well, our characters, and our stories have to have goals to.  Something that we hope to accomplish by the end of the book.  If those goals are left undone, the reader is let down.  Worse, if the story doesn't have a set of clear cut goals, we probably lose our reader before they get to the end of the story simply because they don't care.  This is something I've been struggling with in my writing lately.  What are my characters' goals, and more importantly, what is my story's goal?

First and foremost - to entertain your reader is definitely not a story goal.  LOL.  A story goal is something that your characters are trying to accomplish.  To save the world for instance, might be a nice story goal.   To fall in love is also not a really good story goal if you write romance.  In fact, I've found that in most romance books, the characters don't set out to fall in love, it just sort of happens.  Then, if you find a goal for your characters, it a) can't be something mundane - i.e. doing the laundry, it has to be something that your reader wonders whether they will be able to accomplish b) it has to be believable - i.e. it has to be within their character and c) it has to be clearly communicated to the reader on some level.

I've actually been through several iterations of my story goals for my sequel and finally think I hit upon something that works.  It gives all of my characters goals that fit with the story, their characters, and also provides the conflict that is so desparately needed to keep the story moving.

Now...I'm on to the three act thingee.  I started out with my first act BAM - wanted to get the reader's attention, so now....huh.  Gotta put my thinking cap back on for a while, but the story is slowly coming together, I think...maybe...I don't

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I am OZ...the great and powerful...

So I read something really interesting in Dummies last night.  I was reading about POV.  You know, whether you write in the 1st person, 3rd person, or that ever elusive 2nd person POV (I know, right?  Who's ever read anything in the second person POV...except maybe cookbooks or instruction manuals - apparently, there are one or two authors out there who do it quite successfully <grin>) then there's this omnipotent POV that you are *never* supposed to use but...yup; you guessed it, most of us newbies use constantly. 

So, what you might ask, is this all powerful, all knowing, omnipotent POV that is so bad, and do I do it (you ask yourself) - see how I used 2nd person there? <poke poke>  Well, I definitely do it.  It's that thing you do where you are trying to add sufficient detail to your writing - when you are trying to give your reader a look inside your characters' heads, so after every line you add some little phrase like

As he thumbed through the records on the rack he looked at the woman standing behind the register and wondered if she was available for lunch the next day.  Grabbing a record without looking at the title, he wandered to the counter.  As he watched her delicate fingers tap the keys he asked in his sexiest voice "Would you like to go to lunch with me tomorrow?"

Point here being that - we didn't need to know that he was wondering about asking the cashier to lunch the next day *when he was going to ask her in the next breath!*  Geez y'all!  Leave some mystery.  Let him leaf through the records (for any of you  young'uns out there - those would be these big giant vinyl CD like thingies that plop on a stick and spin round and round(like a record baby right, round round round <cough> excuse me) and play music with kind of an odd scratchy sound using a needle made of diamond - sounds romantic doesn't it?) ummm....what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, let him leaf through the records and stare at the cashier, but you don't have to let the reader know his every thought.  Just because you are omnipotent doesn't mean the reader has to be.  Let the reader wonder at what he might be thinking, then BAM!  Have him grab a record and check (her) out.  Isn't that what reading is all about? It's about filling in the blanks.  I mean seriously, that's one of the reasons I hate movies is because they fill in the blanks all wrong.

Of course, there are some writers that do the whole inner dialogue fabulously.  Look at Stephen King.  His inner dialogue *makes* the book.  I've often commented that his books don't translate well to movies because you lose so much of that inner dialogue, but hey - he still leaves so much unsaid....

Just sayin'!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blog Hop For Japan

The Blog Hop for Japan Giveaway
April 1st through April 15th
Hosted by The Bawdy Book Blog and My Shelf Confessions
As most of you know, Japan was recently struck with an 8.9M earthquake off its coast, which resulted in a devastating tsunami that wiped out tens of thousands of homes, cut off water supply and electricity and ended the lives of many (the death toll is still rising).  It's heartbreaking that mother nature can be so cruel.  But the human spirit, in all its glory, can rebound and move forward.  Every bit of help means something.

(For "before" and "after" pictures, click here.) 
Funds will be donated to Shelterbox.  More information will be provided as I obtain it.
I will be giving away an autographed copy of my book Love Immortal by Linnea Hall. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The wheels never stop....

So, I realize now what it means to be a writer.  The wheels never stop turning. Even when you're not're working.  Forever thinking about that next step, that next moment in your book.  My daughter laughs at me because I carry around this notebook that I picked up at Books-A-Million one day when we were shopping.  I thought, I'll keep it with me, just in case.  She tells her friends that I carry it with me everywhere (guilty) and when I forget, I scribble notes on whatever I have handy (you should see the back of my checkbook). 

But let's face it, when an idea strikes, you don't want to forget it, because it just may be the most important idea in your book.  What I'd really like to do is figure out how to use the record button on my phone - (Note to self: ask daughter how to use record feature on phone).  Why do I say this?  As I'm driving down the road on my way to pick up my daughter from a birthday party, I got an idea.  An awful idea.  A wonderful, *awful* idea.

Anyway - I pulled into the McDonald's parking lot, whipped out my notebook, and wrote it down.  Then I continued on my way to pick up my daughter.  When she was in the car, I sprang it on her.  She's my sounding board after all, being in my target age group - I run all my ideas past her.  Her eyes got wide, her face drew down in a pout, and she said..."But, I thought he was a good guy." (Now I've got you thinking, don't I?)  And I nodded, and she thought about it, and finally decided that she liked my idea.

So what's my point?  Well, I guess my point is, that a writer never stops.  Sometimes, in the middle of the night, an idea will hit and you jump out of bed, open the computer and start typing furiously - even though you should be sleeping.  Because that's what writers do.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The value of outlining

So...I've never been an outlining type of person.  In all my years of writing I've always been a seat of the pants kind of writer.  I mean, even when I wrote reports in grade school I would just kind of write from my heart and do the research as I went along.  If there was something that I needed to know based on where my train of thought took me, I'd look it up and keep writing.

I guess I should have picked up on the fact that just winging it wasn't the way to go when my dad, a teacher, would take to my papers with a red pen, and my papers would end up looking like a writer's murder scene.  They would be slashed to bloody ribbons by the point of his red pen; the evidence of terror my heart felt words suffered dripping from the end of his felt tipped instrument of torture.  But, oblivious to the error of my ways, I would simply make the corrections he suggested, get an A on my paper, and make the same mistakes the next time.

Apparently, my ability to write short pieces in this manner improved over the years, but long fiction seems to take a little more finesse. Now, for my book, I believe firmly in write what you know.  Or at least write what you can ask people about.  That requires less research.  I'm not good at research.  Well, that's not exactly right.  I'm very good at research, but I do too much.  I get sidetracked, move in new directions, find exciting things, and before I know it, a whole day is gone.

Anywho...that leaves the characters.  There seem to be three main parts to the book.  The storyworld, the plot, and the characters.  The characters so far seem to be giving me fits.  It seems, to me anyway, that the characters drive the plot.  Now, if you properly build your characters, give them a real life, give them depth, then your plot should follow to some extent.

That's where outlines come in.  You've got to give your character a reason for living, and something to fight against.  Now, I honestly believe that there are some writers that can do this by the seat of their pants.  But as I delve deeper into the world of writing, structure and character development, I'm finding that in order to truly build a believable situation I might need a bit more.

I think that I'll still be a seat of the pants kind of writer.  I can't work from a hard outline.  I'm not a planner. (Unlike my husband who has spreadsheets outlining every minute of our trips to Disneyworld)  But I think that maybe a rough outline might be a good idea.  Something that gives me a little direction, give me an idea about where my characters are going and what they are fighting against.  I think that may give my book the structure it needs to really work.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why? going back to Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison.  Remember that chapter with the sprawling narrative that annoyed me so much?  Well, there's another thing that annoyed me about that scene.

So after Pierce is done explaining the whole theory behind ley line physics, he proceeds to demonstrate the theory with Rachel.  All of a sudden in pops Al because he 'felt' Rachel in the lines and wanted to make sure she wasn't being kidnapped again. Then Nick inconveniently shows up, Al snags Nick, Rachel talks him down with idle threats, and Al disappears.  Well, then Rachel really is kidnapped. 

So....I have two problems, well actually three, with that whole scene.  First - there's the narrative which I've already discussed with y'all.  The second problem I have is why the whole exchange between Nick and Al?  Who cares?  What is the purpose?  Is it to prove that Al is still a mean old demon?  To prove that he hasn't gone soft?  Or is it to prove that Rachel is really still tough as beans and holds sway over Al's decisions?  I mean, what's really going on here?  It's not moving the story forward, there's nothing going on here, and it's just really not adding anything to the story.  Who knows, maybe it becomes important later.  So then there's the third thing, when Rachel really does get kidnapped - where's Al?  I mean, first of all, he's peeved that Pierce is teaching her stuff, so if he thinks he's still doing that, he's going to pop in to give Pierce what for. If he wants to see if Rachel has been kidnapped, he'd pop in for that.  But he doesn't actually show up until Rachel calls him and then, when she does, he acts all surprised that she's calling. 

So that brings me to the question...why?  Why is that scene even there?

Is love enough?

So I'm still stuck on this GMC thing and I'm love ever really enough?  I mean, I have all these ideas running around in my head about Jewell and Collin and this sequel of mine and well, with my initial idea for the book, Jewell would have to leave her nice safe life in New Orleans, and throw herself into incredible danger, risking life and her career in the process.  And of course, in my preconceived idea for the book, her ever present sidekick Ashley would be with her every step of the way.

But now I'm starting to wonder...why?  Why would she do this?  Collin has his people, doesn't he?  Where are they?  Why don't *they* go to his rescue?  Isn't that what they are there for?  Don't *they* protect each other?  I mean, isn't that what that whole scene in the first book was about, where they sat her and Collin down in the living room and told Jewell to take a hike because we protect our own?  So where are *they* when Collin needs help?  And I see my story line unravel - a series of slip knots pooling in a pile of string on the floor.

The point is, she wouldn't. And Ashley definitely wouldn't. And even if she would, Percy wouldn't let her.  Neither would Gladys for that matter.  So now I'm back to square one.  Love isn't always enough.  Even if she loves Collin enough to fight through the pits of Hell to save him, he has his people, and they will keep him safe.  And  no amount of love could ever make Jewell do something so idiotic as to risk everything to save him.

And so I'm left wondering, when is love enough?  And idea strikes.  When would love be enough?  Well, it was enough when Jewell was in trouble...and it just might be enough if she was in trouble again.....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

All the world's a stage....

So a light bulb went on in my head...yes, another one.  I was a theater major in college.  I remember Jean Scharfenberg barking at me "What is your character's motivation?  Why is your character doing this?  I don't believe you!"  And suddenly it clicked.  Writing is just like acting.  In order to make your characters believable, your audience must understand the motivation.  The whys and hows of your character's conscience. 

Okay - this wasn't my idea, someone else came up with the whole motivation idea, but now I see.  Just like in theater, if your reader doesn't see the character's motivation....they won't believe you (or the character).  So this motivation thing is important.  I didn't really get it when I was back in college, I'll be honest with you...but now, I think something is beginning to make sense.  The wheels are turning.  The character must eat to live - well, I guess that's motivation, but so what?  WHY is that character eating that bowl of cereal?  Mel Gibson's character in Road Warrior where he was eating the dog food.  WHY is he eating dog food?  And then the camera pans out and WOW!  Now there's some motivation to eat dog food.  That's eating to survive...but it's not just a bowl of cereal, now is it?


Okay - so I learned something last night.  First - maybe I should read only one book at a time instead of five.  That way I might remember where I read something so that when I want to refer to it later, I might be able to just flip back to it.  Unfortunately, so many years in school has put me in a position where I am used to reading five or six books at a time and I often find myself flipping through numerous books saying to myself "now where did I read that?"

Anyway, I read that narrative summary is often boring.  While it might be a quick and efficient way of explaining something particularly complex to your reader about something in your story world that may (or may not) be important, it may simply end up being a lecture to your reader that quickly loses their interest. 

So where am I going with this?  Well, (I'm sorry Ms. Harrison - I love your books) yesterday I was reading my book, Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison.  Well, far be it to me to criticize Ms. Harrison's books - she's a published author (I mean, an agent, a publisher, the whole shebang), but as I was reading last night, there was a narrative.  

In this portion of the story she was explaining ley line jumping and the magical or maybe physical (as in physics) theory behind it.  And this explanation, while woven into the story, went on for pages, and pages.  And I found myself thinking about this commentary I read about narration.  And then I found myself thinking about the actual narration and thinking who cares?  Why do I need this much detail about ley line jumping?  Am I going to do it?  If some demon comes from another dimension and snags me, will this knowledge allow me to jump back to my dimension?  Probably not.  So why this in depth explanation?  A short summary of the basics would have been enough.  And then, later on, should I need a bit more information, give it to me then.  I'm not going to remember this stuff later on in the story.  This is B-O-R-I-N-G!  As in Monday morning, haven't had enough sleep, partied too hard on Friday, Saturday *and* Sunday, and ended up in a Calculus IV lecture with an 85 year old tenured prof who should have retired 30 years ago BORING!  Why was it there?

Okay - so least with regards to narration...NOW, I get it.  The question is, can I edit my own work and remember to keep this type of worthless narration to a minimum?  I need to remember, it belongs on the cutting room floor.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ignorance is bliss....

Ignorance truly is bliss.  When I sat down to write my last book I just wrote, and brilliance spewed forth.  Well, I thought it was brilliant anyway.  And I was thrilled with what I saw.  And before I knew it, there was a book.  And it beamed at me.  It radiated beauty.  But then...I started to learn about writing and how to create a truly brilliant novel.

Well, I can't say that I'm well informed...yet.  But one thing that I've learned in the few steps I've taken upon my path is that you need something called GMC.  What is GMC?  Well, ummm...I don't really know.  But I do know that in order to have a truly brilliant novel with truly brilliant characters, you have got to have GMC.  Do my characters have it?  Well, as I sat in the grass this afternoon watching my daughter's softball practice, I thought about it.  Dorothy Gale had it.  Luke Skywalker had it. Richard Kimball had it.  Rick Blaine had it.  But does Collin Sykes have it?  Does Jewell McKean have it?  Does Percy Knighton have it?  Does Doc Babineaux have it?

Honestly - I'd have to say that in the Dollar Store sense, I think they do.  But then, I started thinking about my sequel.  And I started thinking about that GMC.  And I thought, they don't even have the Dollar Store version of GMC and I thought, by golly, they need it!  And not the Dollar Store version of it, I want the Saks Fifth Avenue version of GMC!  So I started thinking about it.  What is their goal?  What do they want in second book.  And that's when I realized...Ignorance.Is.Bliss. 

Lesson One....

So what makes a novel great?  I mean truly great?  Why do you stay up until the wee hours of the morning reading some novels, knowing that you need to get up and go to work in the morning, while other novels simply put you to sleep?  Why do you ignore your family, your job, your very life to find out what happens next in one book, while another is simply a snooze fest?

Well, obviously part of it is simply what interests you.  For instance, Tom Clancy is considered a brilliant author but I just can't make it through a single chapter of one of his books, and Stephanie Meyers is - well, personally, I don't think she's a great author, but I really enjoyed her books.  Why don't I think she's a great author?  Because I enjoyed her books once.  But when I went back to read them again, they were torture.  I just could not bring myself to read them.  They were awful (IMHO). 

So what was it that made them unreadable, compared to other books that I can read over and over again?  Patricia Briggs, Adrian Phoenix, CE Murphy, Faith Hunter, Eileen Wilkes... And of course the greats: Ayn Rand, Gabriel García Márquez,  Fyodor Dostoevsky, Robert Heinlein....these authors can be read over and over again.  It's that ability to pull the reader into the book.  Each time the reader finds something new, feels the same excitement for the characters, and for me, at times, I find myself pushing even harder to get to that next scene, not to find out what happens but because I know what happens and I can't wait for the character to reach that next point in the book. 

*This* is what makes a great author.  This ability to pull the reader into the book and make them a part of the scene.  For me, with the Twilight books, that second time, I just didn't care.  And I don't know why.  So that's what I think I'm going to do over the next couple of weeks.  Figure out why I care about some characters, and not so much about others.

I'm also going to look at Kim Harrison's book Black Magic Sanction.  As I break the book down, there will be spoilers so I'll give you spoiler alerts.  I'm going to try to figure out how to make another page so that you can ignore those pages as you wish.  Right now - as I understand it, books are made up of "scenes" not chapters.  And every "scene"  must have a purpose.  So as I'm reading I'm trying to figure out why each scene belongs.  In the last chapter I read, I just don't understand why it was there but maybe that will reveal itself later.  But more on that maybe tomorrow....

The art of perfection....

“Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time” ~Voltaire

So Why did I start this blog?  My idea is that I have realized that I am not good at everything that I do.'s true.  For those of you who believe that I excel at everything I try, I have found something at which I do not excel.  However, I hope that with practice, this will change.  Some things require hard work and  writing is one of them. Perhaps writing one's thoughts day to day or week to week, or writing an article for an academic journal may be something with which I am familiar, but this does not translate well to writing novels.

Many of my fans (and I thank each and every one of you) may be saying to yourself "but I really enjoyed your book."  Well, that may be true, but as with anything, there is always room for improvement.  Why do I say this?  I've been panned.  Yes, it's true.  Someone gave me what for.  Someone who, over the past weeks, I have come to respect quite highly.  Now, this person (and you know who you are) has been generous and honest, and offered to help me improve upon the skills that I already possess.  And dare I say, I do possess some.  It was a pretty good novel - or so my readers tell me.  But it could have been so much more.

Let's face it, Rome wasn't built in a day.  Heck, it took The Good Lord a full seven days to Create His masterpiece.  And yet, here I am, brazen enough to think that because I've read a few good books, I can call myself an author.  Well, actually...I am going to call myself an author anyway (just a novice author).

And so...with the tutelage of this wonderful person who smacked me upside the head and said "Yo - you are NOT on the PATH!  It's over here...." and any fine people I meet upon the way, I will learn to become a brilliant author who will turn out great books that people will *love* to read.  (I'm so humble). 

This blog will share with you my experiences as I travel along this path, learn and grow.  And along the way, I will be sharing my critiques of the books I read from my new *author* point of view as I learn the tools of the trade.

I invite you to join me on my quest and read a few good books along the way.

©2009 Red Velvet Reads | by TNB