Saturday, September 29, 2007

Banned Books Ahoy: Treasure your freedom to read!

Banned Books Week begins TODAY (9/29 to 10/6)!

So what? What's the big deal? Why am I excited about this?
For one thing we'll be celebrating it on the blog this week.

What is it?

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event which reminds U.S. citizens not to take our precious democratic freedom, or the First Amendment of the Constitution, for granted. BBW has been observed since 1982 and celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion is considered unorthodox or unpopular. This week stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.Not all the books have been "banned" but books celebrated during the annual celebration are those books which have been challenged. A challenged book is one that someone in a community has asked a library (school, public or academic) or a book seller to remove from availability to the public because the individual has a problem with the book's content.

So the "big deal" is the celebration of our freedom of speech and our democracy.

As written by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, (Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 1953, p. 20):

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

So why is it important to me?

As a librarian, this is one of those core values they teach us in library school. The buzz word is "intellectual freedom." The idea is when you work in a library you attempt to balance a collection so books are available to the public from a full range of viewpoints. This leaves the choice up to the reader and not the librarian.

This is good...and bad. I end up putting things in the collection I find offensive, but I know others have the right to read. Like last week, someone requested "The Pickup Artists Bible." I think it is based on the reality show The PickUp Artist but I'm not sure. I glanced through it but it really annoyed me so I put it down. Fast. If it was up to me, we never would have bought it. But in my role as librarian, I have to set my personal prejudices aside.

Depending on the book, the ick factor might be language or content. For me, the ick factor was sleaze. But hey, not everyone agrees with me so you can now check out a book from my library about how to pick up chicks. ;-)

There are a couple of other things that make this celebration important to me. For one thing, I remember reading so many of the books which are on the list and loving them both as a teen and an adult. Harry Potter, books by Judy Blume, Steinbeck, and more. As teens we passed Judy Blume all around school. Her books got seriously dog-eared as we all read "the good parts."

The other point I think about is my own writing. How would I feel if my writing was challenged or banned from a library? That in itself impassions me to fight for freedom for all readers to read whatever appeals to them, whether I enjoy it or not. They decide for themselves and I decide for myself. I like it that way, and I hope you do too.

For a list of Banned and Challenged books, visit the American Library Association Web page by clicking here:

Top Ten of 21st Century

100 most frequently challenged books 1990-2000

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

So do you have a favorite "Banned Book?" Do you have an opinion about Banned Books Week? Share you opinions with us as we discuss this important celebration of books, writing, and authors.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sympathy For The Devil

Okay, I admit it. I have a villain problem.

No, not in the writing department. I'm pretty sure my villains are fully-functional, three-dimensional baddies. So what's my problem, you might ask? Well, here's the thing. I'm a romance writer. But the character I often find the most intriguing (um, especially if he happens to be both evil AND good-looking) is the guy who's working very hard to wreck it all, who thinks it would be the greatest thing ever if he could just thwart all of my beautiful, hearts-and-flowers-filled plans.

That's right. I suffer from villain love.

Snape's going to Avada Kedavra someone? Oh, I'm so there. Vic Von Doom's run off to blow up half the city? Out of my way, ladies (as long as he keeps looking like Julian McMahon, anyway)! Nasty things are afoot, and there's a villain who desperately needs my attention. Commodus needs a cool hand to soothe his fevered brow. Boromir could use something to distract him from that darned Ring. Lucius Malfoy so obviously just needs someone to talk to (and possibly toy with all that gorgeous hair).

I know I'm not the only one who's ever been ensnared by the character who by all rights ought to be the "anti-catch." Come on, now...who among you really thought Christine should end up with boring old Raoul? It's not the good guy we're meant to root for there, not really. It's the tortured soul in the basement, the one with the voice of an angel and the ever-increasing body count. He's fascinating. He's magnetic. He's beautiful.

He's also homicidal.

But do I still root for Eric to win every time? You bet. Hey, one of these days, it might just happen. Even when I'm not exactly rooting for the hero's number one problem, though, I'm often deliciously intrigued. What makes him so twisted? How does he justify his means to an end? And, in my case, there's almost always a "Hmm...I wonder if all he really needs is the love of a good woman?"

It's that pesky "romance writer" thing again, you know.

As we were blogging about characterization last week and the one before it, there was some discussion about the power of redemption, about how that arc is so wonderfully appealing when we're dealing with our characters. That, I think, is what draws me to the baddest of the bad. The possibilities for redemption are endless, and make my romantic's heart go pitty-pat more often than not. Would love change him? Could he be made to see and regret the error of his ways?

Can we somehow get around that little issue of his possible psychosis?

I tend to pick up my pen (or my laptop) and try to find out. The allure of the villain, for me, is in the challenge of taking all of the strength that makes him such a formidable adversary and turning it in an entirely different direction. I already know that the next book I tackle is going to feature a villain who becomes a hero, not the easiest path by far. But no matter how much fun I have with my knights in shining armor (and I do love them, don't get me wrong!), there's always going to be the part of me that wants to head for the black knight with the broken sword, help him up, and give him a chance to discover what he might have been.

So now it's your turn to confess...who are your favorite villains? What about them do you find so fascinating? And who would you redeem if you could?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thirteen Encouraging Quotes for Writers Striving to Become Authors

During these two weeks, we at the diner have been speaking about books that can’t be read and I’ve been thinking about another dimension -- books left unwritten and dreams cut short. Speaking of dreams. …

My friend and I joined Romance Writers of America around the same time. We met in a writer’s workshop and quickly became e-mail writing partners. I envied her crisp, clear prose, her witty dialogue, and the sheer speed she turned out words, paragraphs, pages and manuscripts. But there were negatives, too. She wrote in spurts and was often disheartened. During her bouts with discouragement, her e-mails lessened. And so did mine. Finally our e-mails stopped completely.
Both of us were busy with life and other non-writing activities. She told me: “I’ll e-mail when I’ve written something worth critiquing.”

Weeks and then months slipped by. Summer came and went. At the Romance Writer’s meeting, she was a no-show.

I e-mailed, passing along the meeting’s news and gossip. I asked why she missed the meeting.

“I’ve quit writing,” she answered. “It’s just too hard.”

“What?” I responded. “You’re an outstanding writer. You can’t quit.”

We argued a while before I switched to, “You have to do what’s right for you, but let’s not lose touch. E-mail me from time to time and let me know what you’re up to.”

I hope she decides to give writing a second try. A writing instructor I had in college says my friend is typical of many beginning writers. “Most people quit,” she told the class. “And that includes the talented as well as the mid-range folks.”

Lots of books that might be big sellers are never born because their creators give up prematurely. To combat this trend and to share some grins, I’ve compiled 13 encouraging quotes.

Thirteen Encouraging Quotes for Writers

1.) “Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.” Malcolm Forbes

2.) “It’s always too early to quit.” Norman Vincent Peale

3.) “When I’m writing, I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.” Anne Sexton

4.) “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

5.) Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” William Feather

6.) “A year from now you’ll wish you started today.” Karen Lamb

7.) “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin

8.) “It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer.” Gerald Beran

9.) “I write to discover what I think.” Joan Didion

10.) “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.” Winston Churchill

11.) “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge

12.) “Writing has made me rich—not in money but in a couple hundred characters out there, whose pursuits and anguish and triumphs I’ve shared. I am unspeakably grateful at the life I have come to lead.” Wright Morris

13.) “If we have to say what writing is, we would define it essentially as an act of courage.” Cynthia Ozick

If you like these quotes or you’re feeling down about your writing, I have three suggestions.

*Check out “The Courage to Write” by Ralph Keyes; *Share something, a quote, a site or a book that has lifted your spirits.


Get the Thursday Thirteen code here! 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!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Write and Wrong

For me writing has always been a passion, and a fulfilling part of my life. When writing crosses from passion to obsession, it can be a difficult thing to balance in your life. Though I may be consumed by my love of writing, this is not an excuse to leave my family with nothing to consume. A hot plot idea is not a good enough reason for your children to learn to use the washing machine at age five, or to do your shopping in a housecoat and fuzzy pink slippers. And no matter how handsome and sexy your hero may be, he will not appear under your covers to keep you warm at night.

Other signs that you may be over-obsessing include considering your sweat pants and a tee shirt as formal wear. Realizing you haven’t showered in three days and that is why the UPS guy rings and runs. Or thinking that five-day-old pizza heated in a microwave can be classified as gourmet fare. Obviously, these are extremes, and most of us work hard at balancing writing with the other aspects of our lives. (Though a bit of over-obsessing might get your own computer!)

Here are a few ideas I’ve practiced that were successful for others in the eternal struggle between write and wrong:

1) Set a time to write every day when it is least like to interfere with other activities and stick to it. For many, this is early or late in the day.

2) Write in short intense bursts throughout the day.

3) Always keep a pad handy to jot down brilliant ideas that can be included later.

4) Set aside time strictly for family activity, and again stick to it. We all know there can be deadlines, and other problems will be exceptions. However, keeping these times as nearly-sacred law will keep every day excuses from getting in the way.

5) Take the occasional day off from writing, and your family if need be, and do something that will help retain your sanity. Pedicures and massages will work wonders, and shopping heals many a writer-blocked heart.

6) Always take the time to thank the real heroes in your lives. Husband, children, parents, friends, the ones who put up with us and out overwhelming desire to WRITE!

Please feel free to add to this list. For those of us who write, it’s a battle we face daily. I appreciate new ideas that have worked for others. Best plan I ever had, keep the biggest hero in my life with me for another 20 years.

Enjoy your day, and your gift of writing!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's your process?

Writers are forever comparing how they write. It's not enough to simply chronicle a story, we must explain our process to other writers or would-be writers. It ain't just ego, either. It's sanity. Writing is damn hard and succeeding at writing is near impossible.

Stick two writers in a room and sometime after the "Why are we stuck in this room?" and "What genre do you write?" one will ask the other, "Are you a pantser or a plotter?"

This question is, in writer terms, the equilvalent of "What sign are you?" Pantsers write by the seat of their pants (hence the term, "pantsers"). They fly bravely into the wild blue yonder of creativity never doubting that the plane of their story will land safely at the prescribed destination. God, bless them. They probably bungee jump, too.

Not me. I am a plotter. None of that off-the-cuff stuff for me. I go off on writing tangents that last longer than an ice age.'s really baaaad stuff. Drivel. My characters have no direction and my plot becomes so convoluted that Dan Brown can't deciper it.

I need an outline.

Plotters nod their heads. They understand my need to put something down on paper before I, er...put something down on paper. It's a comfort thing like my kid and her favorite stuffed animal. It gives you something to hold onto, something to sleep on, and something to remind yourself that you really are a writer--you have a plot to prove it!

Of course, it doesn't prove anything because characters hijack plots all the time. Stories are fluid. They change. Chances are that only the basic framework or premise of my story will remain the same and when I look at my original outline I'll laugh myself silly.

And the pantsers will laugh right along with me.

So what's your process?


Thanks to Mac(3) on Flickr for the kewl "?"

Monday, September 24, 2007

Windows Movie Flaker

This week at the Diner, we're discussing anything and everything under the sun, so brace yourselves for some out-there topics. For example, I'm going to be talking about a program called Windows Movie Maker (WMM) that some writer types are rumored to have used to produce "book videos". Under my penname Ellie Marvel, I sold 2 novellas to Red Sage Publishing for their line of Secrets anthologies. One of the authors in Secrets 21, Cynthia Eden, created a spiffy book video for her anthology, and the response to it inspired me to try my hand at one for Secrets 22.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be a "buy my book" entry. (You can't, it's not out until December!) It's going to be an "arrrrrgh, technology!" entry.

Under the influence of 6 different cold, allergy and nausea medications -- because you can never have enough germs -- I undertook my WMM video project on Friday, September 21, and produced a rough draft of a one minute and ten second clip the night of Sunday, September 23. That might seem reasonable, but from my perspective the week-end was drawn out, torturous, and surreal. It didn't help matters that I'm not artistic, musical or an aspiring film director.

But it was educational. I learned that I hate Windows Movie Maker, that I really REALLY am not an aspiring film director, and most royalty free music is too expensive for my generous budget of three dollars and eighty seven cents. I learned that my children resent the heck out of my computer. (Ok, I already knew that part.) I learned that sick children resent the computer even more than healthy children. And I learned that blaminig my foul mood on illness only covers me when I'm in bed, not when I'm bent obsessively over the laptop, struggling not to pound it into submission when WMM froze AGAIN at a critical juncture.

Here are some interesting statistics from my week-end with WMM:

73 -- times Windows Movie Maker crashed right before I could click the "Save" button (bastard!)
50 -- hours that passed from beginning of the project to the end
46 -- times the baby (DD #2) crawled into my lap and screeched in an attempt to get my attention (it worked)
21 -- times I checked my temperature to see if my fever had broken yet
20 -- times my fever had not broken
14 -- times per day my husband encouraged me to step AWAY from the laptop
12 -- photos downloaded from a stock photo site
11 -- photos that didn't quite work for the video in question, no matter how I edited them
8 -- hours per day the baby cried, or so it seemed
7 -- hours per day DD #1 watched Scooby Doo on the TV (my desk is in the tv room)
6 -- cans of ginger ale consumed
4 -- boxes of tissues used by the snotty mommy and equally snotty baby
3 -- birthday parties DD #1 was scheduled to attend during the timeframe of my master creation
1 -- birthday parties I personally took her to
1 -- terrible movies watched when I could have been video editing
1 -- generic, imitative, utilitarian, uninspired video product of my drugged up, frustrating, fever inducing weekend

And it still needs fixing, but not tonight. Maybe not tomorrow. I'll be damned if I hurt my already sore throat screaming when WMM crashes right before I can click "Save."

Hope you all have more luck if you ever try book videos! Word of advice: don't do it when you are sick, have children at home, or might want to take time off to eat, sleep or be merry.

Jody W.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Market Updates from Jeannie

From Cindi Myers' regular market listings....

Shauna Summers, Sr. Editor, hosted the Spotlight on Bantam Dell. Bantam Dell publishes mass market, hardcover, and trade paper originals and reprints. The produce approximately 15 mass market every month, originals and reprints, 8 hardcovers, 8-10 trade paperbacks. Their offerings range from commercial and literary fiction to nonfiction and include genre fiction, mystery, science fiction and romance.

In romance, Ms. Summers talked about some of their bestselling authors: Mary Balogh, Karen Marie Moning, Madeline Hunter, Tara Jantzen. Bantam Dell is editorially driven. Editors don't have a specific number of slots to fill each month or quarter. It's all about the book.

They publish women's fiction, contemporary and historical romance, paranormal, romantic suspense, erotica. Ms. Summers said they have gotten a lot of paranormal submissions of late and it has begun to feel like an overload. However, they still find the occasional standout story but these days a paranormal story must be really special to be bought by Bantam Dell. We will make room for books we think are great, even if we think we have too much of something, she said. Sales of paranormal titles are still strong.

Bantam Dell doesn't have a separate imprint for erotica. In general, Bantam does not do separate imprints for different types of books. Erotica must have good writing and “a story that is organic to the level of sex in the book, no romance novel with a lot of dirty words or a romance novel with a lot of sex scenes. They have quite a few erotica authors already, so are very picky about acquiring new erotica authors.

She would love to see a really good straight contemporary romance.

Bantam is starting Bantam Discovery -- Books that will be published simultaneously in trade and mass market. The hope is to reach different readers with the different formats, to find the widest audience possible for the book. One book a month beginning January 08. This will include originals and reprints, and new and more established authors who are still trying to find a readership. All the slots for '08 are already filled in this program.

Bantam Dell will look at unagented queries no more than 2-3 pages, snail mail only. Expect a response in two months.


To sign up for Cindi's Newsletter, send a blank email to

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Guest Blogger: Irene Perterson on Writing for Laughs

Today I'm handing over the blogging reins to writer Irene Peterson. And let me tell you about Irene: she is funny. Her wit and sarcasm spring naturally from her Jersey blue-collar roots and translates literally onto the page.

Irene's latest book is Kisses to Go, published by Zebra (ISBN-13: 978-0821780114 ). So if you need or even if you don't need another book for your TBR pile, try Kisses to Go.

And Heeeere's Irene!

One of the peculiar things about writing humor is that you can’t just force something to be funny. You either are funny, which rarely translates to words on paper, or you create a funny situation. If you happen to be naturally funny yourself, if you are lucky, it will show in your voice as you write. But, trust me, you can’t force something to be funny, no matter how much you make your friends laugh.

Your voice, the way you come across in your writing—that’s one of the best ways to show humor. You’re in the character’s POV. You have them witness something peculiar, out of the ordinary. Do you have them run away in terror? No, you have them feel the frisson of fear travel up their spines, then you have them think-- Uh,oh, this wasn’t in the brochure.

You as a writer need to put yourself in the character’s place and allow them to think in your voice. Force them to do or think something unexpected. It will surprise the reader and be funny.

But your voice, if you don’t already have one, needs to be sincere and realistic, down to earth. Think Jack O’Neill in Star-Gate. He had all these great lines. Sometimes his character appeared to be incredibly dense in comparison to Daniel Jackson and Samantha Carter, especially Carter. In one episode, he was filling out a crossword puzzle as part of a bet. He was so inarticulate, he just filled in anything most of the time. Nonsense words, words without enough letters to use all the spaces. Worlds are being blown up around them, the bad guys are causing imminent danger to the universe, and he’s trying desperately to fill in a crossword puzzle with his extremely limited vocabulary.

That’s funny. It’s even funnier when he starts filling in nonsense words that happen to be coming to him from some vast unknown source. And they happen to be the keys to holding back the bad guys and saving the universe.

The writers knew what they were doing. From the start of the show, they established the character of Jack O’Neill as the action hero, the mover and doer, not the intellect. When he can’t understand the workings of the smart characters’ minds, he makes goofy comments. The other principles in the series know he’s not a super-brain, but they look to him to get them out of their weekly fixes. Jack always comes through, dummy that he is, and saves their intellectual, overeducated bacon.

That’s funny.

So, make your characters believable, but give them quirks. Make them likable, too. Even the villains, if you want to be funny. Then put these characters in situations that will lend to humor. A sailor who can’t swim. A dragon afraid of fire.

Involve your readers in your story and characters. If you make them want to see humor, give them something off the cuff, something quirky, something extraordinary and let your characters react to it. The reader will follow the characters and face the same situation. When they love the characters and can’t wait to see how the characters react, surprise them with something unexpected. Let the characters laugh and the readers will laugh along with them.

And remember, if you can make the reader cry, you can make them laugh. It’s just harder to write funny.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Surprise! When Characters Throw You a Curve

Over the last two weeks, my coworkers have written interesting and important essays about characterization. Two have interviewed their fascinating characters, which, by the way, is a fantastic way to learn more about the characters in the book you’re writing. Interviewing or letting the character write a journal entry or bio tell you a lot about those slippery beings who inhabit a book. But even after all the preliminary work is done. After you think you know everything there is to know about a character, they still throw curves.

Personally, I think that’s the most fun part of writing.

There are those who think the writer has total control of the characters, and ultimately that’s true. You don’t have to let your characters have their way, but by holding them back you may keep your work from being as good as it could be — and you from getting as much enjoyment from your writing.

For example, the manuscript I’m working on right now includes a fight scene. As I was writing the scene, one of the characters suddenly pulled a sword. I sat back, looked at the words, and wondered what the heck I was going to do now. Do I give the other character (the hero) a sword too? Do I erase that last part and take the sword away? Ultimately, I let the villain have the sword, and figured out a way the hero could triumph unarmed. The scene ended up saying a lot more about the hero’s strength and compassion than it would have if written the way I’d originally envisioned it.

An older story involved an argument between two characters. It was supposed to be about one thing, but they took off on a tangent and argued about something else entirely. This one scene changed the direction of the whole story. And once I decided that was fine, I had fun figuring out where it was going now.

Yet another book was only wisps in my mind when I saw a Kia car I thought I’d like a character to drive. But it wasn’t long before my heroine told me she didn’t want to drive that car. “My name is Kia,” she said. “And I drive a Jeep.” No, I argued. You can’t have the name of an automobile. “That’s my name, get over it,” Kia told me. I beat my head against the wall a few times, but I really had no choice but to let her have her way. And it suited her. I did go searching and found that kia aura is a native Australian phrase. So I decided her parents loved Australia, and named her sister Sydney. The names fit both of them, and author and character were happy. Her hero, Garrett, was a little harder to nail down, both for Kia and for me. But when I did, I kind of fell for him myself.

I guess Kia knew what she was talking about, because I just signed a contract with Samhain Publishing for Kia and Garrett’s book. Maybe sometimes characters are smarter than we are. But then, they are us. They come from somewhere in our subconscious. Right? Hmmm...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Importance of "the past"

Everyone has a past. I do, you do and so do your characters. Your past, and all the baggage you carry around, shape you into the person you are today. Your past choices, failures and successes, will come into play everytime a decision needs to be made. You take a certain route home from work because the past has shown you the traffic tends to be lighter. You order a particular drink because you've had it before and know you'll enjoy it.

Your character also has a past and while we certainly don't want to go into detail about all the little experiences that have ultimately shaped your hero or heroine (or even your villain!), the reader needs to know some of that good stuff.

Is there a reason your hero is afraid of the full moon? Is there a reason your heroine can't be near any man wearing a certain cologne? Sometimes all it takes a quick sentence to clue to reader and make the little tidbits stand out and turn them into the "a ha" moment.

Take Harrison Ford's character, Indiana Jones. In the first movie, he's faced with jumping into a buried tomb in search of the treasure he's been seeking (and of course, he needs to save Marion!) Up to this point, we've seen him be brave and daring and believe in his character. We expect him to jump right in and save the girl and win the day. But wait! He drops his torch into the pit and leans back with a disgusted look on his face and says, "Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" A HA! Our hero has a weakness.

There it is in one short sentence. Obviously something in his past has made him hate snakes. We don't need to know the details, we just know it's enough to make him think twice about what he's about to do. It makes his leap into the pit that much more thrilling and brings us that much closer to his character and the sacrifice he makes to achieve his goal.

Dig deeper - pull out your characters and make them leap off the page! I dare you...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Orphan Train - Part Two

Oliver Twist. Cinderella. Harry Potter. Each is a compelling character captured in print and movies and each shares the unfortunate title of orphan. Unlike the Francesca's post about being an emotional orphan, characters without parents tap into a deeper, universal fears: fear of death, fear of abandoment, and fear of change.

1. Fear of death

You don't have to go too far into the human psyche to come up with this one. Death is the great unknown and in general people fear what they don't understand. Good fathers sometimes die in senseless deaths. Tragic circumstances can shape the mindscape of a character, coloring the GMC of their story. Think of Peter Parker, Spiderman. His uncle's death, and Peter's guilt about allowing it to happen, propel Peter into using his Spidey powers for good to even the karmic scales. (And yeah, I know it was his uncle and not his father, but it was a father-figure, right?)

2. Fear of Abandonment

I admit this is one of my personal bugaboos. Think of a small urchin in Dickens' London being left alone at the mercy of a big, bad world. That is scary to me. Nobody at your back and lots of unknowns in front of you. Bill Sikes is on the premises. EEEEK!!! However, if a character can beat back this fear, the opportunity for growth is amazing. You learn self-reliance and are rewarded with a new family and the opportunity to never be hungry again.

3. Fear of Change/ Fear of Stagnation

The death of a parent has changed you. Your life takes on a different tint. Everything changes, so you fight that change, determined to save the ranch/the whales/your sibling from whatever threatens, creating an overprotective heroine who can't balance risk and safety or differeniate existing from living.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, a parent's death has changed you and you refuse to become grounded. You refuse to take responsibility for anything because tomorrow it may all be gone. Think of Mickey Mantle. The men in his family had a history of dying young from Hodgkins' disease. Did that influence Mickey's behavior off the field? Heck, yeah.

Age doesn't matter when you're an orphan because whether you're 15, 30, or 90 losing a parent rips a gaping hole in the fabric of your soul. The worst element of death is that it is irrevocable. Unless you write time travel or vampire stories, your characters won't get the answers to their burning questions or the resolutions to their problems unless they look to themselves. Even then, they may not get a true answer...but they may learn to live with the silence.

And that, too, is a story.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Interview: A 21st Century Woman in a 13th Century World

Okay, so I see on Friday you were introduced to that hunky (albeit occasionally furry) Gideon MacInnes. I’m afraid I’m nowhere near as exotic as far as characters go, but I figure you might like to hear from a non-paranormal woman’s point of view on what it’s like to be thrust into an alternate reality world with a man who’s, well, not altogether completely human.

1.) Who are you?

Keri Donahue from Richmond, VA. 30 and single, much to my mother’s horror. So, I guess I need to fill you a little in on how my life got turned upside down in the first place. You see, one day I was minding my own business speed shopping, when I stumble (or more accurately get shoved from behind) into a vintage clothing store. The next thing I know, the weird saleslady pulls a ratty dragon tapestry off the shelf and I somehow get sucked into it. I then wake up to find myself in some Camelot-gone-wild medieval village where they decide to sacrifice me to the local dragon. How insane is that?

2.) What is your goal?
Well, that’s easy. To go home -- and to not end up a crispy-fried dragon snack. Wouldn’t that be yours?

3.) Why do you want that goal?
Duh, have you ever tried living in the Middle Ages? It ain’t all fairy tale castles and knights in shining armor (have you seen what happens to chain mail after 200+ years in a damp cave?). There’s no indoor plumbing, not to mention toilet paper has not been invented yet. Without conditioner and a flat iron, my hair is having a permanent bad hair day, everyday. And to put the icing on the cake, I’ve started my period and there’s not a tampon to be found. Could things get any better? Argh!!!!

4.) What is stopping you from achieving it?
He’s standing right in front of me -- 6’ 4” of hunky dragon knight. Okay, so he’s not actually stopping me, but in some weird, Twilight Zone way it’s his fault I’m here. You see, Baelin of Caldbeck is a knight cursed to be a dragon 11 months out of each year and he needs a special maiden to help him break the spell he’s under. Guess who wins the grand prize this time around? You got it -- me. He’s depending on me, someone who can’t manage to keep from messing up her own life, to help him get his life back. Boy, is he screwed.

5.) What skills do you have?
Now that’s where we have a teensy, weensy problem. Breaking this nasty little curse of his requires I perform 3 knight-worthy deeds. I can’t even balance my check book, much less joust or rescue damsels or slay dragons. Oh wait, he IS a dragon. Silly me. Scratch that one.

6.) How do you handle anger?
Can’t you tell? I brandish snarky 21st century sarcasm like a bullwhip, much to a certain 13th century dragon-knight’s unending confusion. Poor thing, he doesn’t always get me.

7.) What, in your view, are your admirable traits?
Oh God, according to my family, not many. You see, I have this little problem with following through on things -- I don’t, usually. But Baelin seems to think I’m brave and honorable and dependable. Wonder where he got that idea? If you ask me, I think he’s spent too much time hiding in that dark cave of his.

8.) What don’t you like about yourself?
Isn’t it obvious? I have big self-confidence issues. Any time I attempt to do something important, I tend screw it up royally and fall on flat on my face, so I usually don’t even try. Now Baelin is forcing me to step waayyy outside my comfort zone and I’m not at all a happy camper about it.

9.) What are your pet peeves?
See question #3. Those, and the fact that Baelin treats me like some helpless, virginal maiden instead of a grown woman with a brain. Boy, he sure grabbed the wrong girl from the stake this time around. Plus, he wears his blasted code of honor around him like a force field. Would it kill him to let down that guard of his every once in a while and have some fun?

10.) What makes you uncomfortable?
How about that I’m majorly lusting after a guy with bat wings sticking out of his back and who coughs up the occasional fireball? How warped is that? And let's not forget about that creepy-looking forked tongue of his. Okay, so imagining all the wicked ways he can use that on my body makes me uncomfortable -- in a hot-and-bothered good kinda way. Then there's the fact that if we manage to break this curse of his, I’ll be going back to my time without him. I’m not so sure that’s what I want any more. Sheesh, what’s wrong with me?

11.) What do you fear?
That I’m going to let Baelin down. That I’m going to fail, just like I’ve done with almost everything else in my life.

12.) What past experiences shaped who you are today?
I’d have to say my past experiences (read: past screw-ups) are what’s spurring me on to not fail this time. This time, it’s too important. This time, it’s the man I think I’m falling in love with depending on me, even though if I succeed I may up wind up losing him in the end.

13.) What makes you laugh?
The little things Baelin tries to do to impress me. You see, he and this other knight we’ve run into (who happens to be a dragonslayer, wouldn’t you know it?) have this male competition thing going on to try to prove who’s the better knight and ‘woo’ me. Get real. If you ask me, they’re acting more like hormonal teenage boys than grown men. But still, there’s something about a strong, handsome knight fighting for your honor that just has a way of melting a girl’s heart.

So that’s me in a nutshell. Wow, I think I just learned some interesting things about myself that I never knew. Go figure.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Orphan Train - Family Estrangement

One of my favorite writing themes is when my hero, or heroine, is orphaned literally or figuratively. They feel the oppression of being alone and cut off from aid knowing they must rely on themselves and their own abilities. In some cases, they are strong and aggressive, but in others they are withdrawn and shy.

This concept is a characterization gold mine for a writer and I find it recurring often in my writing. I don't intend my characters to be alone, but when they begin to tell me their life story (and boy can they talk) they are often at odds with one or both parents making them virtual orphans.

What is a virtual orphan? Their parents are alive but they are estranged from them in some way. Either their parents doubted them at a critical time so trust is gone, they are too much like the parent so they are at odds, or they suffered abuse at the hand of the parent.

These virtual orphans I create have two choices: they can seek to heal the wound and thus reconcile with family or they can choose to remain apart, casting aside their family ties.

Both options are excellent fodder for character building as well as plot construction. The character who seeks reconciliation is an entirely different person than one who decides to go it on their own.

In order to reconcile with the family, a hero/heroine has to be able to forgive.

Forgiveness is critical. If you have a rigid character who lives life in black and white, this isn't going to work. So your character must be one who lives in grayscale or technicolor. Another major factor for me is that the family member(s) have not done something which I as a reader/writer find unforgivable. I've read books I've loved except the family estrangement is healed almost miraculously and in spite of unforgivable deceptions or actions. For me those are wallbangers.

Forgiving the unforgivable can be done, but to force your character to reconcile with the unforgivable takes a delicate hand. George Lucas managed it in the Star Wars tale, perhaps because Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker didn't commit his most heinous crimes against the son who ultimately forgives him. It never would have worked for Leia to forgive because of the rather nasty mindprobe thing in the first movie. I mean who liked the needle? Not me.

So if your hero or heroine can forgive, what then? They must grow. Yes, this is part of your plot but it is part of characterization too. Most of us look for a character arc when we're writing. Character arcs are those odd writing devices that are both plot and characterization.

In order to win through at the end of the book your character must grow in strength or soften enough to forgive. This is a classic character arc but it must be inherent in your character before a single letter finds its way onto the page. One of my favorite movies which shows this radical character change is in the great Bette Davis film Now, Voyager based on the book by Olive Higgens Prouty.

Charlotte Vale starts out as a frumpy, nervous, cowed woman whose mother has emotionally abused and controlled her for years. She suffers a breakdown and in healing transforms into a woman as formidable as her mother. In spite of the abuse, Charlotte is able to come to a truce with her mother. This is a strong character arc and truly brilliant character building.

I find it really satisfying if I can add estrangement and reconciliation to one of my stories because it parallels and underscores the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine in a romance. The tough part is making my characters earn the reconcilation and making sure it doesn't seem contrived.

When the reconciliation flows out of the character and plot, it not only makes your characters whole, it makes your readers love your hero/heroine more. That's why I write romance, after all. I love a happy ending!

What are your favorite reconciliation stories? Do you enjoy this type of character arc? Why or Why not? Share your viewpoints by leaving a comment!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Interview With The Werewolf

Since we've been talking about characterization this week, I thought I'd step back today and hand over the reins to one of the many voices in my head, Gideon MacInnes. He's the hero of my Spring '08 release from Sourcebooks, Call of the Highland Moon, and I'm pretty sure he only agreed to do this because he has no true way of escaping me. Plus I said I'd quit trying to get him to address me as "My Goddess" every time he wants something. So, without further adieu, there's a 6'4 Scottish werewolf with wavy, chin-length brown hair and burning amber eyes stalking in this direction. Wearing, it must be stated, an unnecessarily unpleasant expression. Take it away, Gideon.

Right, then. I'm Gideon, as the lovely woman who likes to toy with my universe already mentioned. And I'm not wearing an unpleasant expression. I'm just a bit leery of you romance-writing lot. Oh, don't look so innocent...I've heard about what you do to your heroes for fun. So let's have a look at what's on this crumpled bit of paper she's shoved into my hand and get on with it, shall we? Oh, brilliant. A quiz. My favorite.

1. Name? Ah, I believe we've covered that. And I'm not going to brandish my magic sword and tell you I'm Gideon MacInnes of the Clan MacInnes. A certain someone and I have already been through this. It's not happening. Sorry.

2. Goal? That's simple, really. All I want to do is get out of Northern New York before this bloody storm hits, get home to my Pack in the Highlands of Western Scotland, and take on the task of leading them from my father. This last hurrah in the States has been interesting, but there isn't anyplace like Iargail. That's the family estate, by the way.

3. Why do you want to achieve it? That's easy. I've been groomed for it since birth. I'm the elder brother, the more responsible by far (you'd have to meet Gabriel to understand, though I'd advise against it if you have husbands), and the Alpha bloodline is the strongest and most suited to guarding, ah, what we guard. Can't talk about that, though. Yeah, I know that's boring. But you'd understand if you knew what kind of responsibility my Pack has had for the last fifteen-hundred years or so.

4. What's stopping you? Nothing but my own initial uncertainty, though I've dealt with that. I have a nasty feeling about the weather, though...

5. Skills? I do all manner of work around the estate, which is especially important since we rent out the cottages and some of the rooms in the main house to guests year-round. The old factor's house is mine, though, and I'm quite proud of what I've done with it. I'm also one hell of a fighter, thanks to years of training. We don't fight much, but even in the Pack there can be the occasional bad apple.

6. How do you handle anger? Well I don't just go off and sprout fur, if that's what you mean. I've been told I get quiet. No, it's not "sulking." I firmly maintain it is not sulking, no matter what She-Who-Brandishes-The-Pen says.

7. Admirable traits? Like any other Wolf, I'm very loyal. I take my responsibilities as future Alpha very seriously, and I'm committed to carrying on the duties of my Pack. Gabe says I'm boring. I suppose I won't repeat what I normally say to that.

8. What don't you like about yourself? Nothing, really. I do sometimes wish I were as social as my brother, but I've had to accept that in my case, less is more in the area of company. And the romantic situation for me is by its very nature complicated, but that's all part of being a werewolf.

9. Pet peeves? Lots of noise, overpowering smells, and being fussed over.

10. What makes you uncomfortable? See above. Oh, and conversations about hero torture. Really, do you have to talk about that?

11. Fears? Well, certainly I worry about the fate of the, ah, thing that I can't tell you about. But actual fear? Hmm...the only thing that comes close has more to do with the whole mating business my kind has to deal with. You see, we bond only once, completely, eternally, and very quickly. That's a lot to deal with in the first place, but we're also compelled to give our bite to seal the bond. With fairly few Pack, most of us too closely related to bond anyway, that leaves humans. Most of whom, I regret to say, can't survive their first Change. So I worry about mating with a human, really. I would have no choice but to walk away, and I would hate to have to deal with the emotional fallout that would produce on both sides, some poor woman heartbroken for reasons she doesn't understand and me miserable and living out my days alone. Still, the alternative, trying to make it work, is worse. Just ask my father.

12. What past experiences shaped who you are? Losing my mother, absolutely, though I barely remember it. That, and the event that left me with this scar across my eye. I'll never forget that...or what happens when I turn my back on a certain cousin.

13. What makes you laugh? Dry humor, Gabriel's stories about his endlessly changing merry-go-round of unsuitable women (I would much rather hear about it than live it!) and the rainbow of expletives my exalted creator spews at her laptop when it's giving her grief. Lucky for me, this is often.

And the list comes to an end, I see. Hope no one's fallen asleep or anything. I couldn't if I wanted to, after all of this coffee (black, of course). Listen, the moon is high, the air is sweet with snow that has yet to fall, and I'm in the mood to let the Wolf out for a run, so I'll be on my way. Enjoy your day at the diner...I've got to say, I do love my Knickerbocker Glory, but the chocolate cream pie you serve here is really something.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Interviewing Your Lead Character: 13 questions to ask before you begin your story

If you write fiction, you’ll probably agree with Robert Peck’s assessment that fiction is folks. He wrote a book by the same name. In it he suggests that before you type “Chapter One,” do your homework and get to know your characters thoroughly.

Many other writing experts give the same advice, but how do you do it? James N. Frey in “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” gives these suggestions:

► Write a biography on your main character(s)
► Have your leads journal—write about their life and how they feel about it.
► Imagine you’re a psychotherapist intent on understanding the character lying on your couch.

“Find your character’s ruling passion,” Frey says. In other words, “what drives them.”

My critique partner, who comes from a military background, takes a different spin on the interview process. She imagines herself as airport security. She orders each of my characters to turn out their pockets and she runs each piece of luggage through high-tech scans. Then she and her virtual commandos escort “said character” to an interrogation room to discuss each found object.

“Explain the purpose of this object,” she commands. “You’re carrying it because?” Her grilling unearths a wealth of information. (I’m certain she missed her calling.)

In “GMC, Goal, Motivation and Conflict,” Debra Dixon recommends another interviewing technique. She asks her critique partner to interview her as she plays each character. Dixon says, “Spend time developing your characters beyond their physical aspects. Ask that important question: Who is your book about? She advocates getting your characters to answer these four core questions:

1.) Who are you?
2.) What is your goal? (What do you really want?)
3.) Why do you want that goal?
4.) What is stopping you from achieving it?

Pinpointing your character’s nature, goal, motivation and conflict is a good start. Now you can also ask:

5.) What skills do you have?
6.) How do you handle anger?
7.) What, in your view, are your admirable traits?
8.) What don’t you like about yourself?
9.) What are your pet peeves?
10.) What makes you uncomfortable?
11.) What do you fear?
12.) What past experiences shaped who you are today?
13.) What makes you laugh?

Questions 5-13 are adapted from a huge selection of character-defining questions found in “Building Believable Characters,” by Marc McCutcheon. Of course, there are a lot of other questions you could ask, but these are the basics.

So, have you used an interview technique to discover your characters? I’m curious: What other questions have you found helpful?


Join the Thursday Thirteen Gang!

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! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Using Dialog to Develop Character: Scripting as Process

One of the more popular trends in story-crafting today involves the use of a plot outline that is strictly dialog, along with notations like a script. There are various ways of accomplishing this, but it can have a two-fold benefit. It can be a fun and different way to develop your characters, and even help create plot. In reverse, you can turn your bestseller into a screenplay and sell it to Hollywood for thousands of dollars. Well, at least you can dream about it...

Let's focus on the idea of using dialog to develop our characters.
Plot Brainstorm: Movie star hero meets reporter heroine, and the inital interview runs hot.

Heroine-Are the rumors of your relationship with Stella Starlet true. Mr Studmufin?
Hero-What kind of man would kiss and tell, Miss Bizybody?
Heroine-Then you're denying there is a relationship?
ro-She was the co-star of my last picture. We're just friends.
Heroine-Do you expect us to believe that?
Hero-Am I supposed to care what you believe?
Heroine-You might care what my readers believe.
Hero-To tell the truth, I don't care much what that two bit rag you call a magazine prints about me anymore. I just laugh. Will my story come before or after the 80-year-old woman giving birth to alien twins?
Heroine-You're asking for it, aren't you?
Hero-Not from you I'm not. I don't find red-headed, long-legged, smart-mouthed female reporters attractive.
Heroine-And I don't find sensual, dark-haired, blue-eyed, James Bond wannabees sexy.
Hero-So you wouldn't respond if I took you into my arms and kissed your bloody brains out?
Heroine-Not even if you ran your hands over my body and whispered hot little nasties into my ear till I, er, you couldn't stand it anymore. Macho, arrogant, men who think all women want them are so not my type. What do you think about that?
Heroine-I think I'm going to find out if you're lying.

What does the above tell us about the hero?:
He is extremely confident of his good looks and popularity.
He isn't afraid to speak his mind.
He has an offbeat sense of humor. (the alien twins line)
He likes red hair, long legs, and a smart mouth.
We have some facts about what he looks like
Strong women who stir his feelings are a turn on.
There is a chance he's British. (bloody brains line)

As for the heroine:
She is an aggressive kind of reporter.
She likes goading this particular star.
She's willing to fight back when cornered verbally
We have some facts about her looks.
She finds sensual, dark-haired, blue-eyed men, James Bond wannabees sexy.
She is ready to take as good as he can give.

This short exercise gives us some solid information on which to build our character's personalities. We are also able to layer in actions, setting, and eventually a complete story format. This is just an alternative process for crafting, but it might work for you when your plot gets stuck, or it's tough to come up with that brilliant new idea. And maybe, just maybe, you'll see your title lit up on an a movie marquee.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quirks, Faults and Doormats

It's usually Talia's Tuesday, but when one of the diner staff needs to take a day off, it's time to step up to the plate. So here I am, ready to bat (can you tell I watched an intense baseball game last night?)

How would your heroine react if she was called into work on her day off? Would she be ticked off? Would she refuse to answer the phone when she sees it's work calling?(not that I've ever done that, mind you) Or would she jump at the chance to help out her fellow workers?

It depends. What kind of character is she?

Building a character is a lot like building a world, only with emotions. We need more than just a grocery list of physical traits. Give them depth. Give them quirks. One of my favorite heros loves video games and sucking on red lollipops, while another hero of mine is a big strong cowboy who's afraid of heights.

Have your heroines bite their nails when she's nervous. When the reader 'sees' her doing this, you don't have to explain anything. Or maybe she loves Mozart and longs to play the cello in an orchestra, but sadly, the poor dear is tone deaf.

No one likes a perfect character. Give your characters faults. Back in the 70's and 80's I remember reading Harlequin Presents and it annoyed me that the hero was always perfect. The heroine wasn't. The hero was always right and was forever putting the heroine in her place. UGH. In the end, it always felt like the hero was doing the heroine a favor for choosing her. Arrogance is a good fault, but if your heroine comes across one of these heros, make sure she can give as good as she gets. No one likes a doormat. Except maybe the person who steps on her.

When you are giving your character faults, remember, there is a limit to what the reader will forgive. Was the hero into drugs in his youth and has since devoted his life to keeping kids off drugs? Well, that sounds like a decent guy to me.

On the other hand, would I forgive a wife-beater or a heroine who murdered her lover because he was cheating on her? That's a tough call. Maybe some writers could redeem them, but she would have to be real careful how she did it.

Know your creations. Make sure they don't step out of character, because even more than wife-beaters and murderers, that's one thing readers will not forgive.

I've shared a few of my characters quirks and faults, how about sharing a few of yours?

Oh, by the way, to answer my original question; my heroine would go in on her day off and she'd be happy to do it.


In memory of those who died

Friday, September 7, 2007

Using Your Senses

How do you use your senses when you write? Let's take music to start off with. A lot of writers have play lists to go with each of their books. I'll be listening to a song in the car and get an inspiration for a scene. What I do is play the song over and over again until I know the words. Yes, I'll sing along in the car like one of those crazy drivers. I even find the lyrics and print them out. Now, you might say because I'm inspired by music to write that I'm an auditory writer, but you'd be wrong. I visualize the scene in my head and can even see the words written on the page, but what I can't do is write while the song is being played. That I need to do in complete silence.

I'm a visual writer. There are other visual things I do to inspire me. I print out pictures of old paintings and photos of natural wonders while I build my otherworld. But not everything comes from external visual inspiration. I dream very vividly and awake about 3:00 AM, then put myself back to sleep to elaborate on the dream. When I wake in the morning, I write down everything I've dreamt. I wrote about seventy percent of my last book this way.

I also can be found, to my family's dismay, to be physically acting out a scene. My husband might walk into our bedroom, where my desk is, and I might be gesturing with one eye brow quirked, or dashing about the room wildly, or smiling in a coy manner with my head tilted just so. And you all know he thinks I'm nuts, but you don't. Do you? In the end I'm a very descriptive writer.

So, how do use your senses when you write? Are you more visual, like me? Or are you auditory? Tell me what your quirks are and what kind of writer are you?


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Through the Looking Glass ~

Wow! So, when we agreed on one of our topics being world-building, I thought, this is great! Nalini Singh is at my site the same day I post here, and she is doing a workshop on, what else, World-Building! *Sigh* I didn't count on being one of the last in a two week timeframe to post on this subject. How can I expound on all the fascinating advice and information that everyone, including a best selling author, has already posted?

Well, I guess I'll start with some titles I think have nailed the world-building aspect. One, I just recently read. It's a series, actually. By, Michelle Pillow. If you like a very dark, almost villainous--almost, not quite--hero, you will want to read the Realm Immortal series. The world-building in this fantasy epic is just astounding. I can only wonder how Michelle keeps it all straight in her head. She has woven an intricate and complex society with deep political battles and heart wrenching romance. The third book, Stone Queen, brought me to tears. The hero's desperation is just...well, you really should run out and pick up the entire series. You won't be sorry.

Another fantastic example of excellent world-building has already been touched on by Brenda in her Thursday 13 of last week. She mentions Alagaesia. I can't tell you the little leap of excitement I had at reading that. I am a HUGE fan of the young and talented Christopher Paolini. His Inheritance trilogy is superbly written. When I read his work, I am there.

When building a complex world for your characters, you really do have to be cognizant, as Lori mentions in her post, of never breaking your own rules. Nothing, can drag a reader out of your carefully built world than contradicting yourself. Whether its a paranormal, fantasy, futuristic, or historical, people are willing to believe what you tell them as long as you stay true to your parameters.

Now, as for how you go about your writing, Kendra spoke of being "organic". I too, like this description. Nalini says the same about herself. I've never given much thought as to how I would describe my own writing, but perhaps organic fits me as well. For me, things just seem to click and that's how I write it. My werewolves, for instance, are not tied to the moon but rather to their emotions. Imagine all the fun you can have with this...ummm, it all goes back to my previous post on torturing your characters. *evil grin*

Well, I think that's about all I can share on world-building as everyone else has touched on all the basics. Whether you are a reader or a writer, one of the most important aspects of a well-written story is a well-built world.

What are some unusual "rules" you've seen done or written yourself? I for one, never did understand why a vampire wouldn't have a reflection. The "rule" about them not having a soul and therefore no reflection never really made sense to me. I mean, does a chair or a pencil have a soul? No, but we certainly would see their reflection. How about clothing? Come on, just because something might be soulless, does not change the fact that it has matter and therefore would reflect light and produce a reflection in a mirror. That's just my opinion.

For more info on world-building, stop by my site today for Nalini's mini workshop. She's answering questions and running a contest.

~Sandra Barkevich

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Ghosts Can Cry, Because I Say So!

When I originally started writing (mumble mumble) years ago, I started out with contemporary. Even though it's pretty straight forward, you still have to build a world around the characters. Maybe they live in a small town or in the heart of the big city. We need to give the reader, who has never been to New York City, for instance, a feeling for what it's like to walk the streets of Times Square. Accuracy is a must. Ya can't have your heroine bathing in a fountain in the middle of Broadway and Seventh Avenue if there isn't one there.

The beauty of writing paranormal is, maybe there is a fountain in the midst of Times Square because we're in an alternate universe. Or maybe it's three hundred years into the future and the mayor's cousin was in the fountain building business. Ya never know.

The main reason I love writing paranormal is, no one can tell you you're wrong. They can think it, they can believe it, but they can't prove it . . . so, nanner nanner :Þ I have ghosts in my current WIP. They can laugh and cry as well as float and walk through walls. I love finding creative ways to make them unique to my story.

Use all five senses. If you don't know what it feels like to walk through a wall (and I'm assuming you don't) make it up, but be creative about it. Somehow I don't think anyone or anything would perform this particular exercise if it felt like millions of tiny splinters sliding under your skin while smelling smoke and hearing ringing in your ears.

One of my favorite lines in a not-so-great movie was by Lauren Hutton in Once Bitten. When the heroine tries to shield the evil vampiress (played by Hutton) she held up a cross. Lauren's answer to that was:"That's just a myth. Besides, I'm an atheist." How awesome is that?

As Lori mentioned yesterday, you do have some rules to follow . . . your own. No fair having a witch take a shower early on in the book and then have a bucket of water melt her in the last chapter. And ya can't have a character suddenly learn to fly in chapter seventeen to get him out of a sticky situation either. You need to at least hint in the beginning that it's a possibility.

I like to throw a little bit of research into my world building, but be careful not to gag the reader with it. I can't speak for all writers, but when I do research I want to show the world how clever I am by throwing it ALL in there. Not a good idea. For one, it bogs down the story. It also prevents the story from being completely your own.

Be creative with your research. A little known author by the name of J.K. Rowling named one of her characters Dumbledore because it means "bumblebee". She imagined this character walking around the castle humming to himself, much like a bee would. Remember, characters are just as important to your world building as purple trees and flying donkeys.

So make your world your own. Do your research, use that imagination God gave you and have fun with it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Guidelines for World Building

Suspension of disbelief is the willingness of the reader to accept the premise of a work of fiction, even if it is fantastic or impossible. That’s never truer than in paranormal fiction, because you’re asking the reader to throw away many of their established notions of the world as it is and step into a world they’re not familiar with.

So as writers how do we do this? For starters, just as with any other fictional world, we use setting and description to establish rules for our paranormal characters and the paranormal world they live in. Rules, you ask? Wait a minute--there are rules? Well, to paraphrase Captain Barbossa, “they’re more what you'd call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Really? Well, yes and no. Maybe it’s true for the Pirates of the Caribbean, but for authors dealing with the paranormal realm, you need to set up some pretty solid ground rules for your world and stick to them.

But author beware: when world building, avoid a huge info dump in the beginning. Nothing bores a reader more than page after page of setup, so try to filter it in with action and dialogue as much as you can. And don’t over do it! Avoid unnecessary lectures about your world, its history and your character’s society. Once established, you don’t need to beat the reader over the head with all the minutiae of your world. Trust them to get it the first time. Paranormal readers are a smart bunch. They pick up on the aspects of alternate realities pretty fast because it occurs in almost every paranormal book they read. As long as it’s not too far fetched, they tend accept it and move on.

Now, not every writer’s paranormal society is going to live by the same rules. One author will have the commonly accepted silver bullet kills the werewolf or the vampire is turned away by a silver cross, while another author will have her creatures laugh at a human character’s attempt to use these clichéd items against them. But if you’re going against pre-established rules made by other authors, written years or even centuries ago (Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Ann Rice’s vampire series), then you need explain the rules you’re breaking and why.

For the most part (from popular movies, TV and books), we all expect certain paranormal creatures to behave a certain way:

• They're allergic to silver bullets
• They only turn at the full moon. That means they only get furry once a month. You have to be careful in your story -- you can’t have them change when they want to or when they get angry ala the Incredible Hulk.
• But if you want them to be able to change when they want to or as a result of extreme emotional stress, establish that rule early on and stick to it.

• They're allergic to daylight, crosses, holy water, and such
• They drink blood
• They don’t show a reflection in mirrors
• They sleep in coffins
• A stake through the heart is the common method of doing away with them

Example of an author who broke the well-known vampire rules and it worked:
Susan Sizemore created a vampire series and in her paranormal world, they have come up with a medication that allows the vampires to handle sunlight for limited amounts of time. She set it up well, made it believable and it worked for me. On with the story.

Example that doesn’t work:
I once read a bestselling author (who shall remain nameless) who broke her own rules and jerked me right out of the story. What happened, you ask? This author created a vampire society and she established early on that the vampires do not drink human blood, they drink from each other. All right. Not the usual vampire lore but I’ll go along with it. So then what did she do? She had the villain use human bait to draw out a vampire with the scent of human blood. Which it does--the vampire pounces on the body like a starving dog. But wait a minute . . . didn’t the author have as one of the rules for her vampire society that they didn’t drink human blood? So why would the villain use human blood for the trap and why would the vampire fall for it? This author broke one of her ground rules and in doing so, broke my suspension of disbelief in her world. If the author expects me to believe in her paranormal world, she can’t decide to break her own rules later to suit her plot. Needless to say, I haven’t read her again.

To recap:
• If you jar the reader by breaking their disbelief and pull them out of the story, then you’re broken that connection and it’s very hard to get it back.
• Don’t establish rules for your world in chapter 2 and then break them later in chapter 17 just because you’ve painted yourself in a corner with your plot and it makes it easier to get out of.
• Be conscious of the boundaries you establish and you (the writer) and your characters need to stay within them.
• If your characters need to step outside the boundaries, you better make darn sure you come up with a good reason why and/or how they can break the rules and make it believable to the reader.

So yes, there are ‘guidelines’ for world building, but don’t bend them so far that they break.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Researcher's Day is Never Done

Regardless of what you write, you do research. The only thing that varies is your research methodology. I didn't consider this consciously until I found myself interviewed by a class of college students. How did this happen? You may well wonder. I know I did.

A teacher I knew assigned his students the task of interviewing people about their jobs. He wanted each of them to go out into the big wide world to interview a research subject. Because his students had no experience with this, he asked me to act as the "sample" interview. This was a scary experience because I don't like to stand up in front of people to talk, but I figured it would be "good" for me.

He brought his class to interview me about being a librarian. He told them to ask background questions of their subjects (in this case me) and to follow leads when they arose - like if I actually said something interesting. He started the ball rolling, then each student raised their hand to ask a question. At first the questions were pretty basic, so I regaled them with tales of the joys of librarianship. Somewhere along the way, I mentioned that I write paranormal romance fiction. They found this interesting. At least no one was snoring, so I was happy. Several students asked me questions about my writing.

As I discussed researching my books, one young lady asked me how you do research for fantasy fiction? Don't you just make it up? In a moment of profound wisdom (or panic) I waxed eloquent about the importance of worldbuilding. After all, worldbuilding is research. You may not pick up a book to research the world you create, but you create that world from the inside out so you know how it works. You must know the physics, how magic works, what it costs, etc. Or if magic is not involved, how does your shapeshifter shift? Does you vamp burn up in the sun or not? All of it is research.

I've found that to figure out how I want my world to work, it helps me to go to other people's worlds. Sometimes I read other people's fiction for little nuggets. US dramatist, Wilson Mizner summed it up well, "If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research." I find great ideas and tweak them to make them mine.

Then again, wandering through a new age bookstore or the new age section of a big bookstore gives me tons of ideas for writing paranormal. There are aisles of books about using magic, vampires, werewolves and more. I can read a book on folklore from different cultures then twist those stories to my own ends.

I've heard writers say there are no new plots, only new voices. Apply it to worldbuilding. If you want a sweeping cultural conflict in your story, study a past culture for historical conflict then turn it on it's ear. J.K. Rowling did this masterfully (or mistressfully) with the Harry Potter series. The entire time I was reading book seven (no, I'll present no spoilers so relax), I was powerfully reminded of the Nazi regime. She took the universal concept of persecution of "lesser" or "lower class" citizens and made it all her own by labeling them Muggle-borns then built her conflict around it, and she did it brilliantly.

The great thing is ideas are everywhere. It means that research is never finished and a researcher's job is never done, but this doesn't trouble me. For me, research is the fun part!