Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Book it, Danno!

Every writer has faced the blank page and despaired. White is an intimidating color if words are your passion. You need to get those pesky words down but lack the inspiration to do so. So...you let a day pass thinking that surely tomorrow you'll write. Tomorrow comes and that niggling doubt that you had pushed to the back of mind, creeps to the forefront and you find yourself looking at the same white page. Again.

You feel impotent. So you start filling your time with "other" engagements like the laundry or organizing your lifetime collection of dental floss. Whatever.

The time away from your computer lengthens and the voices in your mind quiet to the point of silence. Your muse jets off the Tahiti. One way ticket. First class.

What do you do? Well, I am here to tell you that unless you are under a contracted deadline--relax. Sometimes there's a reason why the creative juices dry up and little time away from the frustration of staring at that field of nothingness might be just what you need.

For me, a serious case of writer's block translates into a warning signal to take some time for me. Invariably this means I need to pick up a book--no, not a book on the craft of writing or the art of literary publicity--what I need is to do is immerse myself in another author's work. I need to remember why I write.

Lost in someone else's world, living with their characters, I remember my own (in a WIP) or ones that only whisper at the fringes of my imagination.

Today, I raise my virtual glass of OJ to toast Elizabeth Peters for her Amelia Peabody mystery series. I'm only halfway through the books but the one I finished last night reignited the flame of my writing desire. Why? She writes cozy mysteries, set in turn of the century Egypt no less. Not too much in common with modern day paranormal rom-com. Ahh, but you see her stories aren't about the mystery as much as the characters and how they handle the obstacles--personal and professional--thrown at them. In this book, one character failed her test pretty miserably. This character has recognized her mistake but the "growth" won't happen until the next book (which I don't have--arrgh!)

That spark made me realize in my next WIP (that is in the percolating stage) my own heroine is going to make the wrong choice--big time. I now know what the choice is---I just don't know how to fix...yet.

Hmm...maybe I need to read another book. Anybody know where the nearest B&N is?

;)

Read to Write.

Talia

Monday, September 29, 2008

Talking To Myself

Ah, writer’s block. The bane of every author’s existence. Like the common cold, at some time or another we’re all gonna get it. How do I deal with it? I talk to myself. No, really. I do.

Sometimes, when that blank screen is glaring an empty vast void of white back at me, I just have to get away from it. No amount of staring and growling and whining will make it fill with pretty black letters that any human will be able to understand, much less enjoy reading. So I run away--but not empty handed.

I take off with my handy, dandy digital voice recorder and go where I can talk to myself and people won’t think I’m crazy. Driving out into the country and back is usually a good bet. I don’t have to worry about traffic and the only things that see me are the cows in the fields and they could care less if I’m babbling to myself. This gives me an opportunity to let my mind wonder. Call it verbal stream of thought. I head down the road, thinking about my characters and their story and then start talking. Usually it starts out with a lot of “ums” and “uhs” and “no, that’s stupid” but it’s not too long before the good ideas begin flowing. And boy, once I get going, it’s like a landslide. I’m jabbering a mile a minute and there’s no way I’d be able to type that fast if the scenes and dialogue were coming to me while I’m sitting at the computer. Often, I take a mental road in the story I never would have taken if I’d been sitting on my butt instead of DWB (Driving While Brainstorming). When I play it back later, not all of it makes sense and I sound like the biggest hick on two legs. But mixed in with all dead silence and incoherent ramblings I often find the gem of what I needed to get the story going again. It may be a diamond in the rough, but that’s what second drafts are for.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Something About Nothing

That's what comes to mind when I think about writing and blocks. I feel like I can write anything about nothing, but when I need to write about something, I can't. It makes me crazy, keeps me going back and forth at night in my mind, wishing I could sleep instead. So I found a way to make it work - find out what helps me focus on the story I'm working on or the story that's keeping me from working on what I thought I was working on.

I'm always in the middle of something when another good idea strikes me as the "perfect" story. I want to stop what I'm doing and start writing on that, but what you end up with is a bunch of half-finished manuscripts. And I can't sell a half-finished book.

I've found if I can write down the story idea I have, include a few scenes or dialogue segments, maybe even a picture or two, whatever will hold that story idea open, I can get it out of my head and keep working on the current manuscript. For the current manuscript, to keep myself on track, I keep a posterboard over my computer filled with notes and pictures and scenes, postcards, anything I need to keep my mind focused. I find now, when I am stopped or blocked, all I have to do is go through the things on my board, and immediately, I find myself saying, what if I did this?

Which is how we got started in the first place, right?

Oh, by the way, I'm baking some yummy pumpkin bread. It's a great recipe, so if anyone wants to try it ... and then wants to make it, let me know :)
Happy eating!

Writer's Block: The Branch Method

This week at the Diner, we're going to share a few short and hopefully helpful ideas on various ways to defeat writer's block. This will be followed by at least one week of free fiction where staffers demonstrate a specific method of defeating writer's block by showing you the results of their brain draino! Make sure you come back every day to see the fiction--and what pie we've got on special.

So here's my quickie for helping out with writer's block. Turn the section where you're stuck into "branching fiction". You know, like a choose your own adventure? Think to yourself: what three vastly different directions could this scene go right here? Have the directions be relatively logical in terms of your plot, but ignore anything you might have planned for your book except what has come before. And then write them all, keeping in mind these experiments are ONLY to break through your writer's block and aren't your REAL fiction.

It's quite possible one of the crazy new directions will help you over your writer's hump. I have used this method several times with decent success.

And I can't pass up the opportunity to plug my upcoming interactive fiction novella that I sold as Ellie Marvel to Red Sage Publishing, Megan's Choice, in which every scene ends in two directions. Yes, instead of picking one, I just wrote them all, and it was so much fun!

Here's a link to the Megan's Choice page at my site: http://www.jodywallace.com/books/meganschoice.htm

And yes, I used this branch method to help me through writer's block a long time before I sold this book to Red Sage, though it did give me the idea to write the book.

Jody W.
http://www.jodywallace.com
SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST--Available now, Samhain Publishing

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Banned Books Week - Sept 27 to Oct. 4

Today begins the 27th annual Banned Books Week celebration which is jointly sponsored by the the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, and is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Whew - what a mouthful!

This event's purpose is to celebrate the freedom to read and is observed during the last week of September each year. ALA compiles a list of books which were challenged, but not necessarily banned, in libraries.

Why not call it "Challenged Book Week?" I'll quote ALA here:

Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) is asked why the week is called “Banned Books Week” instead of “Challenged Books Week,” since the majority of the books featured during the week are not banned, but “merely” challenged. There are two reasons. One, ALA does not “own” the name Banned Books Week, but is just one of several cosponsors of BBW; therefore, ALA cannot change the name without all the cosponsors agreeing to a change. Two, none want to do so, primarily because a challenge is an attempt to ban or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A successful challenge would result in materials being banned or restricted.

This is why booksellers, libraries and publishers, and yes, writers, make such a BIG deal about this week every year. We want to make sure books are available for each individual to read and review for themselves. Some books which I find to be pure crap others find to be pearls of wisdom, etc.

If you want more information about what books have been the most challenged in the past year and in the last hundred years, visit this ALA Web Page and research for yourself.

I've included covers with this post from some of the challenged books I've read which have made a lasting impression on me. These are by no means the only books which I've read or which left an impression, but I wanted to share them with you all. Which books left an impression on you? Which books were you surprised to see included?

Happy Banned Books Week! Go out and read a challenged book this week. You'll be glad you did!





Friday, September 26, 2008

You Might Be a Writer

You Might Be A Writer…

Over the last few years, Jeff Foxworthy has given us guidelines to recognize rednecks no matter where or when they might be encountered. I’ve thought for a long time that it might be fun to consider how to recognize writers when encountered in the wild. Here are my guidelines, I’m quite sure you can add many of your own.

If:

One of your favorite pastimes is sitting in a mall and taking notes on strangers.

You carry a notebook everywhere you go, even to the bathroom.

You own more than fifty ink pens. And carry five-ten with you wherever you go.

You consider your computer more a companion than a tool.

You can’t watch a movie without dissecting the plot and commenting on the characterization—even when it annoys your companions.

You have a pet name for your computer.

You can do things with Word (or Word Perfect) that most people would never even dream of doing.

If you’re blue, a trip to the office supply store will cheer you considerably.

You think a bookstore smells better than the most expensive perfume.

A trip to the library borders on a religious experience.

You neither are, nor are you thinking about becoming pregnant— and yet you have six baby name books.

Your daydreams come complete with goals, motivations, and conflicts.

You go to open houses not because you’re in the market for a new home, but because you think it’d make a great place for your new character.

You have a name for your muse.

You’ve ever interrupted dinner with an epiphany about a character or plot.

You’re surprised it’s hot outside, because it’s cold in your character’s world.

If you notice them in friends and family, you have my sympathy. Please remember writers are people too, be gentle.

If even some of these things are true of you, you might be a writer. Congratulations.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Irresistible Opening Lines




Irresistible Opening Lines


Want to snag your readers’ attention? The key is often the very first sentence because that’s where many readers decide to read on or to put your piece aside.
In his book “Hooked,” Les Edgerton asks: “What should be in an opening line? Anything that provokes the reader into reading the second sentence.”

Great beginnings, he says on pages 167 and 168, have “mystery, intrigue, shock, or a revealing glimpse of an interesting and original character that promises excitement or some other strong emotion to come—whatever.”

The first sentence usually presents a question your reader wants answered. It serves as a gateway into your fiction so make sure it grabs your readers’ interest.

Here are 13 Opening Lines that grabbed me:

1) “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.” (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1967)

2) “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (1984, George Orwell, 1949)

3) “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone 84 days now without taking a fish.” (The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, 1952)

4) “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” (David Copperfield,Charles Dickens, 1850)

5) “All children, except one, grow up.” (Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911)

6) “I became what I am today at the age of 12, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” (The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, 2003)

7) “We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.” (Darker Than Amber, John D MacDonald, 1966)

8) We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. (Tracks, Louise Erdrich, 1988)

9) “You better not never tell nobody but God.” (The Color Purple, Alice Walker, 1982)

10) “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was 14 when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” (The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold, 2002)

11) “ It was the day my grandmother exploded.” (The Crow Road, Iain Banks, 1992)

12) “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.” (Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut, 1973)

13) “Besides the neutral expression she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings.” (Good Country People [from A Good Man is Hard to Find],Flannery O’Connor, 1955)

If you want to find more great first sentences, many Websites feature beginning lines. One I recommend is http://openingsentences.com/favourites3.htm. On this site you can actually vote for the openings you like best.

If you want to try your skill at creating a terrific first sentence, check out http://www.smrw.org/contest.htm.
Did you know the Smoky Mountain Romance Writers run a contest dubbed, “The Dandy Line” contest? Entry is free and the contest lasts about a month.

And if you need help crafting great openings, read “Hooked.” Edgerton, Les -- Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Reader at Page One and Never Lets Them Go, Writer’s Digest Books, 2007

Or if you’d rather just share your favorite opening with me, please quote it in the comments. Thanks.





Relax! It's Not As Bad As You Think

At the moment I'm critiquing a story for one of my critique partners. She sold to Silhouette Special Edition (yay!!) and we're currently going through her editor's suggested revisions. I've learned a lot taking this journey with her. One thing that comes to mind, unpublished writers need to relax!

This story is amazing. The characters are flawed, lovable and 3-dimensional. The plot is strong and the conflicts, believable. But I've noticed a few things. It also has plenty of unnecessary name tags, repetitive words, passive voice and was 7k words over the word limit. And guess what? She sold anyway.

What does this tell us? The bottom line is the story. It didn't matter that she had one too many she saids or had some form of turn more times than I can count. What mattered was her ability to tell a captivating story and do it well.

As a critique partner, I do line crits. I point out the overuse of name tags and repeating words, because, let's face it, we all want our submission as close to perfect as possible, but I don't stress over it. What most important is, believable conflict. Good pacing. Does the plot make sense and most important, does the writing suck you in.

If all those things are present, who cares about a misplaced comma. It's all about the writing.

~Maggie

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Time for Ducks

Yesterday at work I was discussing gift possibilities for my cousin's 50th birthday. After batting around ideas with some of my co-workers, I came up with an excellent solution. My cousin will be the lucky recipient of 50 birthday rubber ducks along with a celebratory card that states, "50 is just DUCKY!"

Amazingly enough, another of my coworkers was appalled at this idea. "Why would you give her that?" she asked.

"Well," I answered, "it's whimsical and funny and she certainly won't forget getting it, right?"

The co-worker harumphed and replied, "Well, I would wonder if you were telling me I needed a bath! I'd much rather have money!"

The woman who suggested money is not strapped for cash nor is my cousin come to think of it. I shrugged it off and ordered the duckies.

The above example illustrates a point that I had forgotten: everyone may be creative, but not everyone nutures that creativity. Some people are perfectly content with a gift certificate on their 50th birthday. Imagine that. See, for me the duckies aren't about money...they're about memories. Call me crazy but I try to approach every aspect of my life with humor and creativity. It keeps me sane...sorta.

I love creating because it lets me play God. I mean, if man is created (aha!) in God's image, this makes perfect sense. Writing paranormals involves even more creation because I get to craft entire worlds and mold the characters from the clay of my ideas. Nifty stuff.

Creativity fills my well. It sounds impossible. How can output equal input? It's one of the great mysteries in my life that writing has made me a better wife, daughter, mother and person.

Creativity is the act of reaching out. Whether you write, dance or do cross-stitch, art is communication. It doesn't matter if you finger paint with your kindergartener or lift your voice in praise to God. You are stretching your soul outward. That must count for something in the big scheme of things.

I understand the practical side of life. I live with it daily because I must. But if I had my choice?

I'll take rubber duckies every time.


Talia

Monday, September 22, 2008

When the Storytelling Starts

Most of us can remember when we first got bitten by the writing bug. I came to it late in life, not until I was almost 30. Growing up, I never thought I’d be a writer. No, I wanted to be an artist. I was more interested in illustrating the books than penning them. While I didn’t end up painting romance cover Fabios, I did study art in college and worked as a graphic designer for over 14 years.

But if I’m truly honest, the storytelling started much earlier, probably when I was about 7 or 8. I can remember lying in bed at night in the room I shared with my younger sister. In order to get her to go to sleep, I would tell her “Jackie Stories.” Every night without fail, I’d make up a story about the misadventures of Jackie, Michelle and poopy-diaper Darlene, 3 little girls who lived up the street who ran around the yard like half-dressed wild things. Little did I know that would be when the storytelling would start for me, even if it did hibernate for twenty years before sparking to life again.

Do I remember any of those stories now? No. But my sister told my kids about them and every now and then, my own children drift off to sleep to a new installment of the “Jackie Stories.” Needless to say, their personal favorite character is Darlene and her poopy diapers.

So when did your storytelling start?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match


Have you ever had an incredible hero, but you just don't have a clue who would suit him as a heroine? I have. I've been fighting with this very thing with two or three of my heroes recently. I love the guys. I have a handle on their issues, but do I have a clue who I should match 'em with? Nope.

I just had that problem happen with Godwin Kempe (of the Holding Out for a Hero post). I started a story and thought I knew who his lady would be. She was feisty and didn't suffer fools gladly. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she wouldn't work for him. He needed a gentler heroine. So much so that the title of his book changed from Seeking Honor to Seeking Beauty. Godwin is illegitimate and I intended to make that the focus of the story - but I realized it wasn't gonna fly. Even though it's still an issue for Godwin, it isn't his main thing.

Godwin is...gorgeous. This is a problem? Yup. Godwin looks exactly like his late father, who was an abusive, ruthless scumbag (or whatever the medieval equivalent would be). Godwin avoids mirrors because when he sees his face, he sees his father. I kept wondering who would work for him when who should wander by but a heroine who was badly scarred in a stable fire. I was amazed when she showed up, but thrilled because she was exactly what I was looking for.

Since I write paranormals, she needed some special talents. It turns out she has the ability is to communicate with animals and when the barn caught fire, the animals were still inside. She freed them, but in the process was badly injured. My heroine, Isabeau, avoids mirrors because of her scarring. She covers her face with a veil and hides her injuries.

In fact, Isabeau has resigned herself to remaining forever unmarried. When gorgeous Godwin arrives, she is sure he won't look twice at her for two reasons. First, he's gorgeous. Second, she met his father who taunted and ridiculed her disfigurement. She thinks, like father - like son. Godwin is sure she stays away from him because he is a bastard son, when in fact it is his resemblance to his sire which is at issue.

Oh, how I love it when a plan comes together! So, have you had a hero, or a heroine, but had trouble figuring out who you'd pair them with? If so, how did you find their love interest? Did you brainstorm? Ask for help? Go to a matchmaker? Inquiring minds want to know. ;-)

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Little Bit of Magic



Is there magic in our world? Probably most people in our hurry up, science worshipping world would say no. I’m here to disagree — not only with majority opinion, but also with the belief that science and magic are mutually exclusive. I believe that not only is there magic, but that our modern technology uses and expands it.

Believing in magic is not such a big stretch as all that. In fact, most anyone who’s been present at the birth of a baby would say it’s a magical experience. So let’s start there and work backwards. My daughter is six months pregnant, and when I look at her I see magic. This woman was once a tiny baby inside me, and now she has a tiny baby inside her. To me, that’s magic. In fact, just being in the presence of a child (especially one of my grandchildren) provokes a feeling inside me of being in the presence of something awesome and wonderful. Every human being on earth is different, and yet in many ways we’re all the same. Isn’t that amazing?

But it’s not just the big magic of a new little person coming into the world. There are plenty of smaller things. As I look outside my window, I see trees, birds, and a gorgeous blue sky decorated with soft white clouds. In my opinion, that’s magic. Most people catch a glimpse of the magic as they look at the Grand Canyon, or Niagara falls, but I believe there’s magic in the smaller parts of nature too: birds singing, squirrels leaping from branch to branch, the amazingly beautiful owl that lives in our neighborhood, these are all part of the miracle we call nature.



But it’s not exclusively in nature that we find miracles. I still shed tears of joy when I watch the take-off or landing of a space shuttle. I was a child when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. While I watched those grainy black and gray television pictures, I felt the touch of magic. In fact, much of technology is magic as far as I’m concerned. This laptop I’m using, the wireless mouse and keyboard that allows me to sit in a recliner in a position in which to write in spite of the physical problems I deal with on a daily basis; all magic. If I had to write on a typewriter, I guarantee I’d be lucky to have ever gotten a short story published, much less a novel. And the Internet that connects the entire world together. I can’t tell you the amazement that moves through me when I think of how incredible that is.


And that is the link between magic and science. I’m a science person at heart. If not for my physical problems, I likely would be working as a biologist or physical anthropologist. Instead, I weave science and magic into novels. To be honest, my belief is that I’m doing what I was meant to do. And speaking of shameless self-promotion (we were, right?) The publication of my novel, Shadows of Evil, was a magical experience. And, of course, magic is a major part of the plot. (Would you expect anything else from me?)

Have a great weekend — and keep a lookout for the magic all around you!

[Pictures: my grandchildren (and one very brave son-in-law), across the road from our apartment, the cover of Shadows of Evil]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Want to pull in readers? Thirteen Tips from “Hooked” to help you do just that.

Whether you blog, write articles or fiction, if you’re like me, you rack your brain, thinking, “How can I get people to read my stuff?”



I’ve found an answer in the book called “Hooked.” It’s about writing beginnings “that grab readers.” This book gives you guidelines for great beginnings and offers examples you can “steal.” (Wonder what I mean by steal? Mr. Edgerton, the author of “Hooked” explains in the book.)




Here are 13 pointers from “Hooked”.





1) Start your story as late as you can in the inciting incident. (An inciting incident, defined by Mr. Edgerton is, “the crucial event—the trouble—that sets the story in motion.”) Try to begin in the MIDDLE, possibly when your main character has a problem and knows he/she has to do something about the horrible situation he/she is in.



2) Make sure that problem is a story-worthy problem. The problem has to have some weight and importance. Mr. Edgerton says that this story problem is “the heart and soul . . . the driving force of your story.”



Usually the story-worthy problem is an inner psychological need. For example, in “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy wants to find a place where she’ll be happy and accepted. She runs away from home right before a tornado hits and spends the rest of the story trying to return to her family. Although she doesn’t know it in the beginning, she realizes she already has a place where people accept her—home.





3) The story-worthy problem has to be something the main character wants passionately. Your hero has to care or the reader won’t.



4) Start your story with something that intrigues the reader, something interesting.



5) Make sure that the something interesting is tied to the rest of the story. It’s fine to have a shoot out or a bank robbery, but these openings need to have something to do with what follows. By definition the beginning should lead to the middle and the end of your novel. The beginning of the story is also where you set-up the rules for your world that your characters will have to follow for the entire novel.



6) If you’re having problems with your beginning, look to the end. Mr. Edgerton says that a lot of great starts hint at the story’s outcome.



7) One of the most common mistakes unpublished writers make is they start the story at the wrong place. Too much backstory and all kinds of character history will weigh a beginning down. What is backstory, you ask? Mr. Edgerton says “backstory is all that has gone on before the inciting incident.”


8) Another way beginnings can sour is when writers over-explain things. Readers are savvy. They can pick up on the slightest clues.



9) On the flip side, readers lose interest if they don’t have enough information to understand the significance of the opening scene. They need just enough details to put meaning to the scene. Mr. Edgerton calls these bits of information necessary set-up.


10) Good openings introduce the main character of the story.


11) Check the words in your beginning. Every word should count or be important in your opening.


12) Make sure you start with a scene, not a summary. Most of us have heard the “Show rather than tell” reminder. This is really important as your readers pick up your writing. Mr. Edgerton says, “Your goal is to evoke an emotional response in the reader, and telling absolutely won’t get it. The reader must live the opening scene right along with the protagonist.”



13) Remember to include specific details to help readers envision the opening scenes.

These 13 pointers are only the beginning of the information in “Hooked.” There’s much more you can learn if you read “Hooked”. Get it. At least for me, “Hooked” is a must-have book.

I’m always looking for new books about writing. If you’ve read a good one, please share. Leave a comment. Thanks.


Monday, September 15, 2008

AutoCrit

I just got a new toy two weeks ago. As many of you know, I’m slicing and dicing my baby to get her down to a marketable word count. It’s proving to be a slow, painful process. At this point, I need all the help I can get. I’d heard about AutoCrit (http://www.autocrit.com/) before, but figured now was the time to give it a whirl and see what all the hoopla is all about.

First off, for those of you who don’t know, AutoCrit is an on-line manuscript editing wizard that analyzes your manuscript, checking it for a wide variety of writing errors and weaknesses. It finds:

  • Overused Words
  • Repeated Phrases
  • Sentence Length Variation
  • Repeated Words
  • Dialogue Tags
  • First Words
  • Names and Pronouns
  • Frequent Phrases
  • Unusual/Common Words
  • Clichés
  • Redundancies
  • Homonyms
  • Readability and Statistics
  • Pacing


There’s 5 levels of membership:
FREE - you get to use the Overused Words, Repeated Phrases, and Sentence Length Variation tools. But you can only analyze five 800 word chunks of text per day.
SILVER - you get the Overused Words through the Names and Pronouns functions and you can upload 2000 word chunks, as many times as you want.
GOLD - Everything in Silver, plus Frequent Phrases, Unusual/Common Words, a Combination View of Repeated and Overused words, and Redundancy. With this one, you can upload 5000 words at a time, all day long.
PLATINUM - You get all the tools and can upload 8000 word chunks to your little heart’s content.
PROFESSIONAL - All the tools and you can upload the whole dang manuscript at once. Okay, most manuscripts. It has a 100K limit, which means mine’s out.

So what do I think of it so far? Pretty cool. I went ahead and plunked down the big bucks for the Platinum program because I wanted to use the Pacing function. So far, that function hasn’t done me any good. I don’t know if it’s not catching things or if I’m just a dang good writer when it comes to Pacing (I’d like to think so *G*). When my subscription is up, I may downgrade to the Gold program.

Cons:
Other than the Pacing issue I mentioned above, the only drawback I’ve found so far is it will only run one analysis at a time. In other words, you can only select a single error or weakness you want it to evaluate for each time. For example, you run it once for Overused Words and save that report. Then you can run it again for Clichés and save that report, and so on. It won’t do all the evaluations at once. Well, sort of. (There’s this thing called the Combination View and I’ll tell you all about that in the Pro section.) Now this may not really be such a bad thing. If it ran all the functions at once, the report would probably be a mindboggling mess and you’d quit writing on the spot.

Pros:
The Combination View. Boy, I’m loving that. It shows Overused Words in red, Repeated Phrases in green italic and Repeated Words in Blue all in the same report. That was a real eye-opener for me. In one chapter I used “it/there” 129 times and “was/were” 102 times. Ouch. Gotta fix that. And the last time I ran it, it also showed weak/weasel words in a different font. Don’t know if that’s a new function or if it was just a fluke, but I like it!

All in all, I think this is a very helpful tool for any writer. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should (especially since there’s a free version). And no, they aren’t paying me to write nice things about them. Darn.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Review: Fringe, Episode 1

The next biweek at the Diner, it's a free-for-all! Stick with us and see what crazy stuff we come up with.

I'm starting off with a television review. Fringe, the latest "genre" show from JJ Abrams (Lost, Alias, Felicity), begins with what has become a pretty standard horror scene, unfortunately--people on an airplane. There's a storm a brewin', and there's a sick, nervous dude who injects himself with something that promptly makes his and everyone else's faces melt off with a degree of grotesque specificity that I personally think has no place on CST 7 pm television programming. Sure, there was a handy announcement that suggested parental guidance, but we're talking PG-13 or R level gore here. It just made me a little frustrated that we had to arrange for a sitter just to watch television shows from the 7 pm "family" slot.

Anyway, enough about my parental quibbles. We're all adults here, right? On with the review.

Soon thereafter, the scene changes to a man and a woman at a seedy hotel, engaged in an affair that we know is illicit because their employer (FBI) frowns on interdepartmental dating. Grey area! Breaking departmental policy! Does it matter if it's true love? Because the man tells the woman he loves her. However, their lovemaking is interrupted when she's called to the airport to investigate an incident. It's the airplane from the first scene that happily landed itself using autopilot. Clever, huh? Convenient, too. The man is called in shortly thereafter himself, since they're coworkers and all. Actually she's some kind of liasion who has a history, not of the romantic variety but of the "ruined the military career of his best friend" variety, with the intimidating special agent in charge. He sends her and her boyfriend on a make-work mission to investigate a storage unit, where you will be shocked to discover they find a secret lab and a man who's a dead ringer for the man we saw die on the plane, who promptly blows up the boyfriend.

I guess if you watch any television or movies, you won't be shocked. Any time there's a happy couple in the beginning, especially in a show like this, somebody's going to die, turn evil, disappear, be kidnapped and beaten, get burned in a ceiling fire caused by a yellow eyed demon, cheat and leave, or something similar.

The boyfriend doesn't die straight away. He appears to be affected by the same chemicals that dissolved the unfortunates on the plane, so the heroine goes to the mean boss and asks him to get her access to this scientist who's been in a mental institution for 17 years since he researched flesh dissolving chemicals in the 70's. The SAC is uncooperative, of course, so the heroine has to find a route to the crazy scientist herself. This involves tracking down his wayward son (aka Pacey), a hyper-intelligent conman, which we're told instead of shown, and bullying him to get his Dad out or else she'll sic the Mafia on him or some such.

Okay, the premiere lasted about 90 minutes, minus commercials. I've described what would amount to the first third of the program, which is where I'd stop if I were reviewing a book. We've introduced the main characters -- the heroine whose only flaw is love, the boyfriend who said I love you and sealed his fate, the mean boss who just isn't fair, the crazy scientist who is totally misunderstood, and his belligerant son who is second billed so he's obviously going to play a bigger part than the boyfriend, if you know what I mean. We've been introduced to the main conflict -- the heroine has to save her boyfriend, yes, but the larger problem is that she can't make things happen as an FBI agent until she hooks up with the scientist who used to work on "fringe" projects.

I think I've seen this advertised as X-files meets CSI, and that's about right. If you like both of those shows, you'll probably like Fringe, as long as you can overlook some stiff acting, particularly by Pacey, I mean, Joshua Jackson. The heroine played by Anna Torv ain't so hot, either, although her attempts to voice an American accent instead of her natural Australian one might make her sound stiffer than she has to be. I always wondered why foreign actors can't just have whatever accent they have, but I guess the producers/directors/etc. thought American viewers would feel more comfortable when the FBI heroine out there trying to save the world from terrorists had an American accent. She is althetic and tough and does her part to chase down bad guys and threaten good guys but the show definitely makes sure it also shows her softer side as well, by displaying her no less than two times in a state of undress. That's for the boys, you know.

I'd give it a 6 out of 10, although it was such a hassle to find time to watch it, what with the kids and all, I might save my tiny bits of free time for Heroes and Sarah Connor instead. Next week is something creepy about a pregnant lady whose baby eats it way out or something; I think maybe Abrams has been reading too much Stephenie Meyer.

Oh, one last criteria. Back when I used to edit a newsletter called Science Fiction Romance, I did short movie reviews where I rated them based on worldbuilding content and romantic content. Since we're fans of paranormal romance here at the Diner (and pie), here's how the first episode of Fringe would stack up in that respect:

Romance building: 2. There's a doomed romance in the beginning (boo for doomed romances!) and a potential romance with the heroine and the belligerant son, soon to be the hero, but you can tell that'll be a slow burn with lots of bickering. Which isn't a bad thing for a tv program, but I'm not rating it on what might happen but what was actually on screen.

World building: 3. There is definitely world building, but it's more convenient science helmed by a scientist who remembers everything instantly and whose lab in the basement of Harvard still works after 17 years eating the happy candy. I don't think so.

Pie eating: 2. There's a scene where the scientist dad, one of the FBI agents, and the cow (don't ask) are eating Chinese food and watching Sponge Bob.

Anybody else catch Fringe? How about any other genre programs? Where would you rate them in the 3 most important Diner criteria?

Jody W.
So much cyberspace, so little time!
www.jodywallace.com / www.meankitty.com

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Inspiring Ends

I'm a HEA reader through and through which is why I prefer genre fiction. In a mystery, the happy ending is getting the killer. In Science Fiction and Fantasy, the happy ending is saving the universe from the Evil Overlord whether that person is Darth Sidious (Emperor Palpatine) or Sauron, the Dark Lord of Middle Earth. In romance, of course, the HEA is your hero and heroine realize they love one another, tell everyone else, tell each other, then live in perpetual bliss and harmony.

Real life often doesn't end that way, which is why genre fiction is so necessary - at least for me. I know people talk about how great literary fiction is. I don't discount that. But you know, I find most literary fiction depressing. It's beautifully written and evocative...but usually dwells on learning stuff about the character and yet they continue to live in perpetual sadness and "reality." I can live without too intense a dose of reality in my reading materials.


So here's to inspiring ends that end happy! I love the home spun happiness of the Wizard of Oz - there's no place like home. I love it when the hero or heroine triumphs over evil or their own worst natures.
I love to read romance...all kinds. But my faves are the seriously hot erotic romances where a passionate moment becomes a passionate relationship.
I also love the ultimate inspiration...the male tuckus. So enjoy the accompanying visual feast of firm bottoms.
They definitely inspired me! Hope they inspire you too!



Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thirteen Faces from Tamil Nadu


I was only in Tamil Nadu for a month. A short time, but long enough to fall in love with her people. I wanted to stay. I wanted to bring them all home with me and in a sense, I did.



There are 13 of the faces of those who stole my heart.









One,




Two ,
Three,



Four and Five,

Six,


Seven,


Eight, Nine, Ten and Eleven,


Twelve,



Thirteen


I’ve almost been back as long as I was gone, but I’m still thinking about the children I taught and hoping to hear from them. How about you? Do you think about places you’ve been? People you’ve meet? Share if you’d like and thanks for visiting.



The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone
who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow
Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your
Thirteen in others comments. It's easy and fun! Trackbacks, pings,
comment links accepted!




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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Beginning of The End


Endings are especially important to me because they're the reason I became a writer.

Many years ago I read a book that I absolutely loved. The writing was clever and humorous. The heroine, my kinda gal. The hero, strong and yummy. I couldn't put the book down.

And then I got to the ending. It was awful. Boy, was I pissed. I felt cheated. I felt robbed. I felt like I devoted 4 hours on my life to this story only to be let down. The heroine shrieked her love for the hero out of fear and he basically said, "uh, wow, gee, er...."

Not the response I (or the heroine, I'm sure) was looking for. I figure they're divorced by now:)

To this day, I can trace my desire to rewrite that ending to the beginning of my writing journey. When I finish a book, I want to close it, sit back and sigh. I want the resolutions to be real. I want the characters to put their hearts on the line because it's something worth fighting for.

I loved Lori's post yesterday. She said to start with the ending. This is something I have done myself and always find those books easier to write. Just make sure you tie up all the loose ends, but also try not to make it an info dump. I try to tie up the ends as I go along so it's not all done in the last two or three pages.

So, like I've said before, start with a bang, end with a sigh.

~Maggie

Monday, September 8, 2008

Endings First

If a book is a wall banger, chances are I never made it to the ending, but it’s a pretty good guess it would have been as bad as the rest of it. What I hate is when a book starts out with an incredible hook, turns into an I-can’t-put-it-down page turner, and then comes to a crashing halt with pitiful excuse for an ending. Talk about a major let down. Sometimes I get the feeling it’s because the author has spent all this time building a terrific story and either

a) she runs out of time because of an impossible deadline or

b) she nears her page limit and has to rush the ending to finish the book.

I have to wonder if it might have turned out better if the author had written the ending first and then went back and built the story up to it. I did this with my second manuscript. The black moment came to me first and I wrote the whole book around it. It was a pretty darn good book too, if I do say so myself. It got me an agent. It even got editor interest. Unfortunately, that editor wanted me to reset the majority of the book as a contemporary instead of WWII. Doing that would have required more than changing some dates and the clothes the H&H wore. It would change who the characters were, their conflict, their goals, and that wonderful black moment I had that was the catalyst for the whole book. I did a lot of soul searching on that one. I discussed it with my agent and told him what I thought the change in time period would do to the scope of the book. Though it nearly killed me, I finally decided not to do it. It wouldn’t be the same book without the ending and everything that leads up to it. Did I make the right decision? Who knows? Maybe not since I haven’t sold that book yet. But I do hope that someday the romance market will be ready for a WWII paranormal. And when it is, have I got a story with a killer ending when it does.

And, for your viewing pleasure, a scrumptious ending for the eyes. *G*

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Climaxing with Panache

Sorry I missed my post yesterday. I woke up feeling awful and went directly back to bed to sleep. As for today, the topic of climaxes, finales and completions of novels is still on the menu. As we continue into snack week, look for a visual cornucopia of tasty "ends" and/or further quickies about endings.

Since I didn't post my week one and I write erotic romances, I decided I'd focus on climaxes. Don't run screaming from the blog. I can be tasteful. Usually. Often. Sometimes. Well, today.

I've been working on edits on my medieval...again. (A writer's job is NEVER done!) And I've been rereading my love scenes. Why? To make sure each one builds on the next. As I said about middles, the scenes should be important so that if you skip them you miss something. In each one I include clues about who my characters are and how the story will flow. My hero and heroine usually decide how intense the scene is though. And trust me, there is no changing their minds. I'll explain later, so stay with me.

The first love scene (whether it happens on page 10 or page 100) is typically two people jumping each other or learning about each other. Of course it's best if they do both, but often that scene is quick and hot. Quick being a relative term, at least in my case. I write long love scenes - I don't try to - it just works out that way. My h/h don't complain though. I think they like that about me.

The point of this one is to introduce them to each other in a physical way. During their first time they learn what both of them enjoy and they are gasping at the end of the encounter. And, we all know it's never been that hot with ANYONE else before. Hey, it's romance and that's part of the HEA, especially in an erotic romance. Of course, the intensity tends to scare both of them so they might avoid each other for awhile...or they crave another round. In my writing, it is usually the later because as I said in my previous discussion, I've forced my h/h together and there is no getting away. They are either fated mates or they are newly married. Whichever it is, they are joined at the hip. Literally and figuratively.

The important thing is that the next love scene builds on the first. It needs to be placed logically and reveal character. As your h/h grow closer together, their lovemaking becomes more intimate and the climaxes are hotter. Yes, hotter. And yes, it is a heckuva challenge to keep getting hotter. I've been fortunate because my h/h tend to decide for themselves what the love scene will be and how it will show me, and the reader, more about them and their growing relationship.

Not only should the overall story arc reach a climax, but so should the love scenes. They must build on one another and take the relationship a little further. Every touch. Every look. They mean something. They are important. They should build to a climax, and I don't just mean a physical one for your characters but a relationship one for the book. The last love scene is crucial in cementing the relationship. It's just as important as the black moment. It may take place just before, just after or actually BE the black moment. When writing an erotic romance this scene needs as much attention to detail as the rest.

Based on my comments, you might think I advocate plotting the love scenes and I know some writers do. However, I don't think I could plot a love scene. In fact I know I can't because I've tried. Every time I decide, oh the love scene will be this, it becomes that. If I make the mistake of trying to rewrite it to fulfill my vision for the scene, it never goes well. My hero and heroine rebel.

For example, the final love scene in my medieval. My intention...a sweet, gentle love scene where they have told each other they love one another. Eaduin and Verite's reaction to my intent?

Are you nuts, writer lady? We have been hot and a bit kinky all the way through. There is NO way we'd do gentle. You know, it was kind of like Tina Turner's monologue at the beginning of Proud Mary. "We don't do nothing nice and easy. We always do it nice and rough."

I argued. I tried to write nice and gentle, but they won. I could not write it that way. It wouldn't move at all and it kept going the other direction even when I tried for sweet. So I caved and dang, it was a hot love scene which created the right climax for their relationship. It sealed their love in a way that was believable and made for an excellent ending.


The moral of the story? Listen to your characters. They'll tell you what you need to do to make their relationship work on all levels, especially the physical one. They also seem to know how to make each love scene build on the one before. They want you to get the job done because they want their HEA.

Oh, and do me one favor. IF you like erotic romance and want to read my book when it comes out, please don't skip the love scenes. They really are more than just seriously hot sex between my hero and heroine. Although, they are that too. Trust me, asbestos gloves are a good thing. :wicked grin and wink:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ending Gracefully

You’ve just read the last page in a book you enjoyed. You expect to feel satisfied, like at the end of a delicious meal. But instead you feel unsatisfied, vaguely unsettled, or even down-right irritated. Maybe you want to throw the book against the wall. What happened? Why did a perfectly good book fail in the last few pages? I recently had a manuscript rejected (I was able to rewrite and resubmit)because of a weak black moment, so I did some research and hard thinking, and I do have some things to say about the subject. Here are my, not so very humble, opinions.

First, the black moment has to work. I learned the hard way (hence the rewrite) that the black moment has to be really black. In a romance, the reader has to believe that the couple has no chance of having a happily ever after (even though we all know they will). And that’s not an easy task. But if the black moment isn’t black enough, the book won’t be satisfying.

Second, characters have to work at it. To paraphrase Alicia Rasley (a wonderful teacher, by the way!) characters have to earn love. Characters have to change during the course of a novel. They have to move from the position they hold at the beginning to a different one at the end. In my book Shadows of Evil, Kia has to move from a loner who distrusted most everybody (especially men), to a person who can reach out to her friends for help and work with them. That’s how she earns the right to her ending.

Third, doing it realistically. Margie Lawson (another wonderful teacher!) talks a lot about conveying “authentic emotion” and how a writer has to use introspection, description, physical manifestations of emotion, and dialogue to show how emotion works and changes within a character. If done right, the reader can be led down the garden path right along with the character and believe that the character changed and became able to do what needs to be done at the end. If that journey to change is not believable, you have a book where the end feels unrealistic and forced. You’ve read those, where all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere the hero/heroine understands he really can get over the hard feelings/forgive/understand/move for/become a different person for his/her heroine/hero (and mother, sister, brother, uncle, best friend, and worst enemy). Unsettling and irritating. It leaves the reader wondering why she just wasted all those hours reading that book.

Don’t stop too fast. I personally hate it when a book gets through the black moment and just stops. I don’t want the dang thing to go on to show grandchildren and retirement either (although that would be preferable), but to just stop without some hint of what’s beyond just doesn’t give me closure. It only takes a few pages, so please me a scene or two with hero and heroine together after the story problems are solved. Make me believe they’re going to have a life together. Maybe this is strictly a personal thing, but I feel strongly about it.

Last but certainly not less important, please, please, please tie up the loose ends. Don’t leave a mystery unsolved (unless it’s a gateway into a sequel, and even then give it enough resolution to satisfy the reader). Don’t make the reader wonder why there was a mysterious gravestone mentioned in chapter 3 and 5, but never explained. Don’t leave us wondering why the red dress disappeared. Avoid at all costs a meeting with a relative who tells the heroine seemingly important things, but nothing that is ever mentioned again. You know what I mean, and it’s annoying. This my friend, is my daughter’s pet peeve. I’m a bit more forgiving, but many readers aren’t. And the last thing a writer wants to do is irritate a reader.

Those are my thoughts on ending novels. I’m sure you have some of your own. What makes you want to throw an otherwise perfectly good book against the wall?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

13 Perceptions of Tamil Nadu, India

Hi. Maybe you’ve wondered where I was this summer. Answer: I was in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India, where I was privileged to be curriculum coordinator in a pilot program for teaching English language learners.

Our group worked with about 50 orphans. Fortunately, they have English instruction at their school, so they know lots of English words, but they need practice stringing those words together in conversation.

The orphans were wonderful students and I’ll tell you more about them at a later time.

Since I spent most of July and August in Tamil Nadu and had so many great experiences, I’m still sorting out my reminiscences. In keeping with our Diner’s theme of endings, I’d like to give you an after-word from my visit halfway around the world.

Here are some impressions and things I found peculiar or worthy of comment.



13 Perceptions of Tamil Nadu, India


1) The people of Tamil Nadu are friendly. They smile readily. They like to talk to foreigners, which was good for me because with my red hair, I was clearly not Indian.

2) They like to have their picture taken, which is a bonus of amateur photographers like yours truly.


3) They want to see their picture after you take it.


4) In Madurai, the city where I spent most of my time, animals share the streets with pedestrians, motorcycles, bikes, rickshaws, buses, trucks and ox carts.

5) Did I mention ox carts? Here’s a picture.

6) Sometimes whole families ride a single motorcycle. (Sounds impossible, but it happens. They find a way.)

7) It’s customary to take off your shoes inside a house and many people go around barefoot, outside as well as inside.

8) People eat rice with their fingers, then wash after eating.

9) Indians eat in silence. They save talk for before and after the meal.

10) Many visit Internet cafes to check their e-mails or browse the Web. These cafes don’t serve food but what they do have are rooms divided into cubicles. Each cubicle contains a computer you can rent for between 25 to 75 cents an hour. That’s such a deal that customers like me often had to wait to get a turn.

11) It’s important to walk slowly when crossing a street so traffic can swerve around you.

12) Most women look good in saris. A clothing trend we might want to start here.

13) The warm weather lends itself to people having areas of their homes open to the outside. Imagine trees growing in the middle of your house. Very cool, if you don’t have to worry about snow and slush.

I’m sure many of you have traveled to foreign countries. The first things that strike us as travelers are the differences. Feel free to share your impressions of places you’ve visited. I’m eager to learn. Thanks.

Brenda

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone
who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow
Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your
Thirteen in others comments. It's easy and fun! Trackbacks, pings,
comment links accepted!



Monday, September 1, 2008

Not Your Grandma's HEA Anymore

Call it formula if you will, but as far as romances go, the happily-ever-after ending is a given. The hero and heroine fall in love and, if they aren’t married by the end of the book, they’re at least committed to each other and more than likely heading that way. How they get there is up to the author.

But a lot has changed in the HEA (Happily Ever After) of romances since the era of the bodice ripper. Gone are the days of the heroine cowering in the corner, biting her nails, while the hero risks life and limb to save her from the villain at the very last moment. It’s come to a point where we don’t want to read about damsels in distress anymore. Who cares about Dudley Do-Right saving Nell from another runaway train? *yawn* And Snow White and Sleeping Beauty slept through the entire ending of their stories while prince charming (and the dwarfs) did all the dirty work. *zzzz* Nope, nowadays, readers want their heroines to have more brains, more courage, more backbone. Heck, we want them to kick some bahookie.

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t want all of them to be big, tough Amazon warriors. And we also don’t want to diminish the hero to wimp status while we’re at it. But what we do want is for the heroine to take part in her own happy ending. She needs to have a hand in her fate. Take Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz for instance. She was the one who went after the witch at the end and got her HEA by golly. If there had been an eligible guy around, she would have gotten him too. *G*

So when you’re ready to wrap up the ending of your story, don’t put all the pressure on the hero to save the day. Give your heroine a little credit and let her slay a dragon or two. In fact, mine does just that in my latest book. *G*
 
ja