Why Do I Jump Genres?

Guest Post by Barbara Edwards

medium_6338763999I’m Barbara Edwards and I wish I knew more than the excuse that it has to do with the way my mind works. I do love variety in my reading and have a penchant for history. That’s why my first two full-length novels were historical romances. Another Love is set in New England and Annie’s Heart in 1972 Kansas. Although I’m familiar with both locations I needed to do a ton of research. I wanted all the details right. Funny how my interest in history had me spending more time reading than writing before I was done.

I did reveal a tendency to write dark plots. The next turn was into paranormal. I don’t think my stories are scary, but my editor does. Readers do. So I guess they are. I’m in the process of writing a Series set in a small mythical, New England town. My editor and I had a hot discussion about my first title and she won with Ancient Awakening. I still don’t ‘like’ it, but stuck with Ancient Blood and next year’s Ancient Curse. I think after that I’ll pick another lead.  If you have any suggestions let me know. Then I can argue with you.

I tried writing a humorous contemporary romance that got rejected.

And in there I wrote a contemporary romantic suspense called Rachel’s Rescue. I recently pulled it to do major rewrites. It has technical references that are dated. Wow things have changes in ten years.

Last year another well-known writer suggested writing shorter books to fill in the gap between the longer novels and keep readers aware of your name. I tried it. Let me tell you, for an author who writes 90 to 100 thousand works to drop to less than 50 thousand is hard work. And it took me longer to learn the new skill. The only reason I hung on through three rejections was because I’m stubborn as heck. Maybe I’ll go back to that funny one after all. Why not? It’s written. It does need rewrites, but I only have time. And talent. Snicker.

My short holiday romance is available now on kindle and free on from October 8th to October 12th. Journey of the Magi is available here:  http://amzn.com/B00ES5DZEQ  I hope you take a free download.

I did start another short holiday romance, hoping to have it come out next year, but I may get side-tracked by another genre. A paranormal romance is already in the works with another werewolf. I’m not promising anything.

About the Author

  • Caribbean 12-23-2012 026I’m Barbara Edwards and a native New Englander. I’m a graduate of the University of Hartford with a Master’s degree in Public Administration. I write poetry for myself and novels when I need to tell a longer tale. I’m fascinated by the past so naturally turned to writing historical romance. The dark paranormal stories evolve from nightmares. The romance comes from my belief in people’s basic goodness and longing for love.
  • I lived in Florida for several years and am past president of the Central Florida Romance Writers and a member of Romance Writers of America.
  • When I returned to Connecticut, I founded the Charter Oak Romance Writers, a Chapter of Romance Writers of America, along with several close friends.
  • My husband is a retired Police Sergeant. We share an interest Civil War re-enacting and travel the Eastern states to participate in events. I love visiting museums, galleries and battle sites, gathering information for my stories.
  • I taught Romance Writing at Manchester Community college for three years.
  • I’m fond of gardening and growing antique roses with limited success.

Please follow, friend or like me. I love to hear from my readers.

Blog   Website   Facebook  Twitter  Amazon Author’s Page  GoodReads  Shelfari   LinkedIn   LibraryThing  Facebook like page  Google+

 
photo credit: Tau Zero via photopin cc

On Writing: GMC

No, not the automaker. Goal, Motivation, Conflict

Guest Post by Melissa Snark

medium_567207975Articles on the craft of writing are challenging. So much has already been said, yet very few books really stand out as invaluable writing tools. Today, I want to talk about a book that I have found particularly valuable.

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon offers a roadmap for getting from the opening chapter all of the way to the conclusion. The book explains in clear, concise language how to create believable characters and story occurrences, and then how to sustain momentum through a series of plot twists. She uses popular movies such as The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca to illustrate her points.

Prior to reading GMC, I had already employed many of the principles in the book in my writing, but the guide really gave me the terms and definitions necessary for applying a practical process to good storytelling.

Instead of talking about the book in length, I’ll define GMC and outline how Dixon’s process works in broad strokes. Then I’m going to use a scene from my own book to demonstrate how I incorporated her GMC model into my story.

Goal, motivation and conflict are the basis of everything that happens in the author’s fictional world.

Goal—desire, want, need, ambition, purpose

Motivation—drive, backstory, impetus, incentive

Conflict—trouble, tension, friction, villain, roadblock   (GMC p. 2)

Remember the five Ws from grade school? Who, What, Where, When, Why?

Where and When are setting. Place and time. Easy peasy.

Who is your character. Not a question. Know who your character is and what you character wants. After all, it’s her story.

So now we’re left with What and Why.

Your reader wants to become involved in the character’s goal to achieve a specific goal. The reader wants to understand why your character is motivated to achieve that goal. And the reader wants to “worry” about whether or not the character can achieve that goal. Conflict creates the worry. (GMC p.9)

Ah, so now there’s an added element. Not only Why but Why Not.

Who = character

What = goal

Why = motivation

Why Not = conflict (GMC p.10)

Remember what I said about your character wanting something? Well, to have an interesting story, characters should want what they don’t have. This desire, want, ambition, or purpose is the character’s GOAL.  Per Dixon, the best goals are both urgent and important, and not always achievable.

As Kurt Vonnegut says in his 8 Rules of Creative Writing:

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

The following in an excerpt from my paranormal werewolf novel, Hunger Moon.

“Look how hard you struggled with a wolf’s strength to travel across a few hundred feet of chest-deep snow. Imagine how long it would have taken your mother. Think about how fast you move compared to a human.”

He stared in silence and then made grim reply. “You’re saying that both murders should have happened beside the pool.”

Victoria nodded and released his arm. He remained seated on the ground. “Your mother wasn’t killed by a berserker wolf. She was stalked and then slaughtered.”

“You don’t think I did this?” His question contained more hope than conviction. His shock ran deep, but his rage churned at the core of his being. He terrified her.

Victoria retreated from him toward the woods. “What I think is irrelevant.”

Logan surged to his feet and pursued her. “Wait. Please. I need your help.”

“I can’t help you.”

He stopped in his tracks. “What the hell are you doing here then?”

“I needed more information to form a complete picture. It’s too bad that your mother’s spirit isn’t more coherent, because I would like to help her.”

“What now?” Despair filled his beautiful eyes.

“Now?” she said. What now? What comes next?

“Yes, now.”

“Now… what I need is to take my pack and get the hell out of here before we wind up under the control of a psychotic Alpha who murdered his mate, or saddled with a damaged boy who murdered his mother. Either would be our end.”

Ah ha! We have two characters with radically different desires. Victoria’s goal is to keep her small pack of wolves safe from danger. Logan’s goal is to clear his name and find his mother’s killer. These respective goals are urgent and important, creating suspense.

Each character is motivated to obtain or achieve their goal. MOTIVATION is what drives the character to act, usually but not always in their individual best interests. Dixon advises that every character should have at least one good strong motivation.

Keep it simple. Keep it strong. Keep it focused. (GMC p.31)

Out of this combination of goal and motivation comes the driving force for your plot. Motivated characters with clearly defined goals will take action to obtain their goals.

Action is important.

Active characters will make your life much easier because action creates plot. (GMC p. 13)

Characters with goals in direct opposition to one another will create CONFLICT. Within the parameters of the GMC model, conflict is the Why Not. Every author needs to create conflict in order to advance their story’s plot.

Conflict is required in commercial fiction. (GMC p. 59)

Dixon’s quick definitions of conflict:

  1. Conflict is a struggle against someone or something in which the outcome is in doubt.
  2. Conflict is bad things happening to good people.
  3. Conflict is bad things happening to bad people.
  4. Conflict is friction, tension, opposition.
  5. Conflict is two dogs and one bone. (GMC p. 60)

Back to Victoria and Logan. Recall how they wanted different things? And desire them passionately? These opposed goals provide their motivation to act, which leads them into direct conflict with each other.

Cat fast, Logan landed on his feet and settled into a defensive stance. Victoria advanced, adopting an aggressive posture, spine stiff and head high. She expected Logan to come at her any moment, and she braced for his terrible transformation. They were close in power, but his superior size and strength allowed him a distinct advantage.

Victoria did not understand the delay; his attack should have come with the swiftness she knew he possessed. His continued failure to transform infuriated her. “Change!”

“No.”

“Change, damn you! Fight me!” She lunged at him and lashed out with her claw. She struck his right bicep and left a set of deep parallel gouges. Blood ran from the wound and fell onto the white snow.

Logan growled but controlled his beast. He smirked, taking a perverse pleasure in her towering frustration. With deft grace, he dodged her next blow. “I don’t think so.”

Her frustration peaked and she gnashed her teeth together. “Why? Why won’t you fight me?”

“Because it gives you an easy out if we kill each other. You don’t like who I am, so you resort to violence. You don’t want to hear what I have to say, so your solution is violence.”

He stopped moving and absorbed another slash to the chest. She left another set of bloody wounds over his left pectoral. “This doesn’t lessen your cowardice, Vic. It proves it.”

“Change. Now.” Victoria towered with fury. She backhanded Logan and drove him toward the edge of the lake. A shallow bluff hung over the water.

“Go on. Run away. Screw with people, and then tuck your tail and run. Run away so you don’t ever have to solve a problem or trust someone. Run away. It’s what you do best, coward.”

Pure hatred burned in his amber eyes.

The insult struck home more deadly than silver, flaying her ego to the bone. He took distinct pleasure in driving his point home and twisting the blade. Cowardice. It was too damned close to the truth. For months, she had run from everything—hunters and responsibility—to her great shame.

Howling, Victoria grabbed hold of Logan and hefted him above her head. She took three huge strides toward the edge of the bluff and heaved the wretched male high and far. If he’d never come down, it wouldn’t have been long enough for her.

Logan flew through the air and then hit the dark water below. An enormous splash served as the final punctuation on their confrontation. She watched long enough to be sure he surfaced and then she left. If Logan had been angry before, getting drenched might push him into a frenzy.

There you have it. My quick, neat recap of The GMCs—Goal, Motivation and Conflict.  If you’re interested in obtaining a more thorough explanation then Debra Dixon’s book is well worth the price. I highly recommend it.

* * * *

On Amazon for Kindle: GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon. Hard copies can currently be obtained from Gryphon Press for a much more reasonable price than those listed on Amazon.

* * * *

About the Author:

A friend asked me once how I chose my pen name. I told her the following: “Melissa, because when people mix up my first name, it’s the most common goof up. Snark, because it amuses me. A) I love the word ‘snarky’ and B) I love Lewis Carroll.”

As an individual, I’m sarcastic, stubborn and blunt to a fault. I have a strange sense of humor and I like to laugh (usually at my husband or children), but also at myself. I’m not particularly extroverted, although I do enjoy time with my family and close friends a great deal.

At the moment, I’m a stay at home mom who writes in my spare time. I’ve got a B.S. from Arizona State University in Business, and I’ve worked a variety of different jobs, including as a medical device documentation specialist, a technical writer, and an auto liability adjuster. I live in the San Francisco East Bay of Northern California with my husband, three kids, and three cats. My hobbies include roleplaying, cooking and reading.

Where to find Melissa on the Internet:

WebsiteBlogFacebookTwitterGoodreadsEmail

Amazon Author Page

photo credit: .scarlet. via photopin cc

Author Interview: Kate SeRine

Hints and Insight from Kate SeRine

Here there might be spoilers – Beware! Or read all the books in the Transplanted Tales series first – that’s cool.

Red

The Better to See You

Along Came a Spider

Kate SeRine Our first question should be about world building. There’s something…Harry Potter about the Transplanted Tales, in that their world exists in our current world. You don’t ask us to imagine another planet or a Narnia. You don’t ask us to believe that these characters simply exist in our world, like vampires. You ask us to consider two separate worlds residing in one and then make us believe. Amazing. How did you come up with the Transplanted Tales universe?

The idea for the Transplanted Tales came to me during a conversation with my eldest son, who was 8 or 9 years old at the time. We like to have what we call “What if” conversations where he’ll ask me a question that’s totally out there and then we chat about it. The question that day: “What if fairytale characters were living next door to us?” We went on to discuss who it would be, what that Tale would do for a living, and so on. And as we chatted, I started to get a very clear picture in my head of a tough, hard-hitting version of Little Red Riding Hood — all grown up and ready to knock some heads. I practically ran to my computer to get it all down. All the other details just fell into place as I began writing.

In creating your characters and interactions, you’ve used readers’ general feelings and preconceptions of fairy tale and literary characters and both built on that and tore those associations apart. Was that intentional, or just character and story flow? Did you sit down and plan, or are you more organic, like “wouldn’t it be cool if…”? A little of both?

Oh, it was totally intentional! I have a very wicked, twisted sense of humor and have a great time turning all these stories on their heads to come up with something unexpected. Some of the characters were planned—working with Little Red Riding Hood meant I’d need to bring in the Big Bad Wolf in some way, and I figured the “biggies” would have to make an appearance (Cinderella, Snow White, etc.), but the actual twists on those characters often came to me as I was writing or doing research. If I was stuck on what to do with one of the characters, I would do some reading to see if anything about the origin of the story or the story itself would trigger something crazy.

Believe it or not, one of the characters I spent the most time researching was Lavender Seelie’s brother, Puck. Obviously, most people know him from Shakespeare, but Puck has a very long traditional in folklore that predates the Bard.

Red by Kate SeRineSeriously, how did you come up with Snow White as a madam? Jim “Prince” Charming as such a skeeze? And the “Willies” for the Shakespeare characters. Pure genius in a name.

LOL – You know, I don’t know if I’ve shared this with anyone yet, but Snow White’s character in the Tales was inspired by Mae West’s quote, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” And with Snow White being such a pristine, innocent character in name and deed, I couldn’t resist. Same kind of thing happened with Prince Charming. I had a lot of fun turning him into a philandering, unethical a**hole. One of my very favorite scenes in THE BETTER TO SEE YOU was in the beginning when he and Lavender square off. I still chuckle when I read it.

The Willies just sounded funny to me. Shakespeare’s plays can be rather bawdy and the double-entendre made me grin.

So, I guess, basically, I do all this just to amuse myself and hope it entertains other folks as well. 😉

How do you mix all that with such sexy romance, thrilling mystery, and suspense?

It’s funny — I didn’t start off intending to write mystery or suspense, but it kind of morphed into that as I went. I really enjoy reading plot-heavy novels and so that’s what I tend to write. As Red’s voice took on that noir feel, the mystery/suspense elements all fell into place. And, for me, romance is a must in every project. I gotta have a happily ever after.

As for weaving all those elements together? Part of it is practice. I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen, but I guarantee you my writing is way better now after writing numerous other novels and partial novels in the twenty-*mumble* years since then. Part of it is study. I’ve read a little bit of everything from all genres and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and try to figure out how to incorporate certain techniques into my own work. And then part of it is just instinct. I go with my gut.

The Better To See You by Kate SeRineYou announced last week that you contracted with Kensington to write a novella continuing Tess and Nate’s story, giving us a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of their relationship hinted at in the second and third books. How did the addition to their story come about?

I’d always intended to tell this story. Nate does something rather drastic at the end of RED that I knew he’d have to pay for in some way, even though his intentions were noble and just. The Fairytale Management Authority was pretty understanding, of course, considering he took out a murderer and ultimately saved lives, but those who’ve read RED and already know Nate’s secret, realize that the FMA isn’t the only authority to which Nate has to answer. And they’re less forgiving.

And a contract for the fourth book in the series – congrats! Gideon! Okay, so, bribe, blackmail, pester, chocolate, champagne, whatever it takes. We gotta know. Who is his heroine?

Hehe. Her name is Arabella Locksley, but you wouldn’t know her by that name because the storytellers got her story all wrong… 😉

Any plans for more? Puck, Mary, Snow, Cindy, what’s going on with Lavender’s parents, and the Pigg brothers? Or have different characters and stories been invading that clever mind of yours?

We’ll have to see where the series goes and if it continues. I’d certainly be open to writing more Tales under the right circumstances. I’ve planned books 5 and 6 in which Al Addin and Mary Contrary would both get their page time. And there are certainly other characters who would be coming back to visit. I don’t know that I’d do much with Snow or Cindy—they’re too much fun to use as foils for my heroines.

If I write another novella, it might be fun to do a story with Puck. He’s such an irresponsible, egotistical jerk it has really surprised me how much people like him. But he shows signs of finally growing up and being “tamed” at the end of book 2, so maybe there’s hope for him yet… 😉

All that being said, I do have other projects I’m working on, so I’d be okay with bringing out something new as well.

Along Came a Spider by Kate SeRineGive us some inside info on any (or all) of the main characters–stuff that didn’t make it into the book. Thoughts, feelings, background, anything you know about them that we don’t. We love hints and insights!

Oh, wow. There’s all kinds of stuff that didn’t make it into the books. Let’s see…

Tess “Red” Little – Her father was mayor of the village where she lived in Make Believe, which made her affair with Seth even more scandalous. When Nate calls her cell phone, the ringtone is “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.

Nate Grimm – I reveal a lot of his backstory finally in GRIMM CONSEQUENCES, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that the 1940 Lincoln Zephyr he drives was won in a poker game with Nicky Blue—one of the few times he’s actually beat his closest friend at the game.

Seth Wolf – He’s a big fan of BAND OF SKULLS (he’s wearing one of their concert T-shirts in book 2) and THE BLACK KEYS. His favorite poets are John Keats and Robert Browning.

Lavender Seelie –She likes to make chocolate chip pancakes for Seth on Saturday mornings. And she’s grown very fond of washing dishes (those of you who’ve read THE BETTER TO SEE YOU will know why *wink, wink*).

Trish Muffet – She has several degrees, including an MD, from various colleges and universities, but she never uses the title “Doctor”. Once tried to dye her trademark blonde ringlets brown, but turned them green instead. It was a reeeeeeally long few hours before they reverted to their natural color.

Nicky Blue – Made his initial fortune during Prohibition and expanded his business interests from there. Owns the Tale pub, Ever Afters, but pays Bob “Old King” Cole to run it and be the “face” of the business.

And, oh, all right… I’ll give you something on Gideon. When I write about him, I’m kind of picturing Chris Hemsworth (Thor) with the longish red curly hair of Josh Knowles from the History Channel’s FULL METAL JOUSTING (might have to look this one up if you’re not a nerd like me). Yummy, right? This is such a tough gig. 😉

Thanks, Kate, for being such a good sport and for the great answers!

Evereyone else, go. Purchase and read. Go now.

Contesting the Competition

Writing Contests and Flashes of Genius

Guest Post by Andrea Downing

 

Love’em or hate ‘em, if you’re a writer, most likely you’ve entered a writing contest at some stage of your career.  You may have done it in the pure and simple hope of getting your work in front of an agent or publisher, or you may have just wanted more feedback on your work in order to know you were going in the right direction. Perhaps you were just hoping for a win to use as promotion for your book. Whatever your reason, the value of entering could well depend on where you placed and what the judges said about your writing.

A couple of years ago I entered a writing competition and, unfortunately, came in fourth where the first three places were the finalists.  Like anyone would be, I was disappointed that, by a mere two points in this case, I had been pipped at the post.  My personal reason for entering had been to get feedback on my writing since I had undertaken to write a western historical romance which no one, but no one, in New York reads.  Therefore, I obviously looked to the three judges of this contest for some useful critique.  Two of the judges scored me at 99 and 94 out of 100 respectively, and the third—whose marks happily didn’t count as the contest only took the two highest scores­­­­— scored me a whopping 56.  After I was able to stop catching flies with my mouth hanging open, I asked myself….WHY?  Where the first two judges raved about my dialogue and said they could hear the voices of my characters, No. 3 said they sounded like the 1960s instead of the 1860s.   Whereas Nos. 1 & 2 loved the story and claimed they wanted to read more, No. 3 told me it was over-plotted and maybe I should try writing something else.  In fact, No. 3 didn’t have a single good thing to say about my opus until at the end she conceded that I had “flashes of genius!”  Not even ‘some bits were ok,’ but actual genius! Hmmm.

So, was Judge 3 having the literary equivalent of a bad hair day?  Was she simply a hard marker? Can there be such a gap between critics as to explain my results?  I looked at the marks for all 20 contestants and the nearest gap to mine was a measly 20 point differential to my 40.  Did my critic just hate “westerns?”  Or did she see something the others hadn’t? And who was right?  Can one be subjective about good writing?

When sentences are grammatically correct can ideas, imagery, voices, story be thought ‘good’ by one person and ‘bad’ by another?  Obviously, they can or critics would be out of a job. There are books—stories—you may not like while knowing they are well-written. The existence of classics and bestsellers says that there is often a general consensus of opinion.  But why (and how and when) does a difference of opinion occur?  And what is the value of all this to the entrant?

Obviously, if you enter a competition purely in the hope of winning for promotional purposes, your chances are pretty slim that you are going to reach your goal, and the same might be said about hoping to get your work in front of an agent or publisher.  You might, of course, but it’s not something you can count on.  What you can count on is getting criticism, and what you do with that criticism is entirely up to you.  I had some very good advice from a fellow writer, and it’s guidance I followed in the contests I entered following that fateful one.  I take the criticism I believe in and ignore the censure with which I don’t agree.  I go back over the manuscript with the remarks to hand and look at my work and see whether I feel the judge was right or wrong.  And—I repeat!—I ignore the rest.

In time the above manuscript became my first book, Loveland, and it has, to date, received quite decent reviews.  In fact, it’s currently a finalist as Best American Historical for a RONE Award—a competition which I did not enter but with which inclusion is purely based on having received a 5* review. Whether entering previous contests paid off, it’s difficult to say.  Or maybe those flashes of genius just flashed enough at an editor to get me in print.

 About the Author

Andrea Downing likes to say that, when she decided to leave New York, the city of her birth, she made a wrong turn and went east instead of west.   She ended up spending most of her life in the UK where she received an M.A. from the University of Keele in Staffordshire.  She married and raised a beautiful daughter and  stayed on to teach and write, living in the Derbyshire Peak District, the English Lake District, Wales and the Chiltern Hills before finally moving into London. During this time, family vacations were often on guest ranches in the American West, where she and her daughter have clocked up some 17 ranches to date. In addition, she has traveled widely throughout Europe, South America, and Africa, living briefly in Nigeria. In 2008 she returned to the city of her birth, NYC, but frequently exchanges the canyons of city streets for the wide open spaces of the West.  Her love of horses, ranches, rodeo and just about anything else western is reflected in her writing.  Loveland, a western historical romance published by The Wild Rose Press, was her first book and is a finalist for the RONE Award of Best American Historical.  Lawless Love, a story, comes out as part of The Wild Rose Press Lawmen and Outlaws’ series on Sept. 4.  Andrea is a member of Romance Writers of America and Women Writing the West.

Follow Andrea on her websiteTwitterFacebook, and purchase Lawless Love and Loveland on Amazon

J to tha M: Writer’s Block Blues

When Did Writing Become WORK?

overcoming writer's blockJ:  have you been working on your Wraith novella for Rory lately?

M:  not much

J:  having Jonas out there hasn’t inspired you?

M:  I haven’t had much time for anything. Jonas just came out on kindle, and I need to get notice out into the world

and try to write

and try to edit

and try to get through the million things that keep popping up in life

summers are crazy, and we just bought a new house–yikes

so there’s that

J:  I’ve definitely been there. To go from hours in the day for writing to only one or even less

to sit down with even the intention of writing, only to find that you

need more than that hour just to remember what you were doing last time you had an hour to write

M:  it’s not even just the sitting down part. The characters are getting pushed aside in my head

I’m not getting the conversations and scenes just popping in or developing

that’s so frustrating. Damn writer’s block

At the same time, we’re all kinds of fun busy, so I guess it’s a trade off just like everything.

it stinks when things that were fun and an escape become work

more like chores

or cause stress

J:  but it does become work after you publish

there’s the editing, the marketing, the organization

it’s a job

and it’s harder than any other job I’ve ever had

M:  it is

I’ve never worked so hard in my life

never shuts off or ends, it seems

there’s always something else to do

J:  in a way, those other things will help…eventually

they’ll take your mind off the story you’re having trouble telling

clear that blockage

you’ll sit somewhere, happy enough to be where you are, and Rory will suddenly speak

M:  most likely

but the problem is, now I can’t just sit around and wait for that

to happen

J:  the inspiration always comes when you’re supposed to be doing something else

M:  there are these things called deadlines and expectations

J:  we should re-institute the WC

and hold to it

I’ve been writing on Sunday nights with Susan

M:  I never did well with those, though

you know this

I never look at word count

J:  but the true goal isn’t word count

it’s setting aside time just for writing

M:  that’s not my problem

J:  putting down words even if you’re not sure you can use them

M:  it’s having something in my head to write

J:  sometimes you have to force it

M:  that just doesn’t work for me

trust me, I’ve tried

J:  my problem is definitely just trying to find those minutes to work

with no “other job” distractions

or husband distractions

cooking dinner

having a social life of some sort, however pathetic it may be

M:  when the words are there, I can make myself do all that

carve out the time

right now, it’s just figuring out how to get those pesky characters playing again

J:  remember we used to do brainstorming sessions?

would one of those help? where you tell me where you are, what needs to happen, and we figure it out from there

M:  that might work

make me think more

I’ve got the plot and major points plotted out

it’s all the little scenes and details that actually make the story I’m having trouble with

J:  you know I love it

M:  let’s schedule a day to do that

brainstorm our stories

when it won’t interfere with your WCs

I love it, too

J:  I have several stories I need to finish. I think I’ve got Jinx under control now

but I want to finish Soundtrack and get moving on the third Kingdom book and the second

Oracles

M:  and…and…and…

J:  hahaha

I know

plus, I got a fun idea for a follow-up to Jinx

M:  Yay – fun! I love blarghing out story ideas. Let’s schedule a date. Let me move things around on my damn calendar. Let me find my damn calendar.

brb
photo credit: john.schultz via photopin cc

Oh, the Hats You Will Wear!

Living As a Reader, Writer, and Editor

Guest Post by Sandi Layne

reading writing and editing by sandi layne

© Nireus | Dreamstime.com

When I was in Middle School—we called it Junior High, back in my day—a friend of mine told me something that has stayed with me ever since. She said she didn’t want to be a penpal with me when she moved because she thought I’d red-pen her letters.

I kid you not.

For the record, I never red-pen correspondence. Editing has just been something I’ve done without thinking about it since I was quite young. For this, we can blame thank my mother. Not only did she send me to the dictionary when I didn’t understand one of her polysyllabic utterings, but she also corrected my grammar from my earliest spoken sentences.  When I began writing for school, she combed over my paragraphs and essays and short stories (written for extra credit or contests) until my work met her high standards.

I think the first paper I remember her really getting serious about was when I was in third grade and writing an essay about Jesus. (Not for a Christian school; he was just my chosen Famous Person.) From that time until I was in grad school (working on an advanced degree in Theology, yep) my work was often shared with my mother. And often, I did not come up to snuff in her estimation. Thankfully, my teachers loved my words.

Today, people even pay to read them. It’s kind of amazing.

The Green Hat:  Reader

I have been a voracious reader most of my life—just check my bio. When I started this peculiar journey, I began by writing what I read, in a lot of ways. The thing was, I found I didn’t want to read those books anymore, because I wanted to make sure my ideas were mine from that point onward. This severely curtailed my leisure reading and I had to expand my fictional horizons.

Still, I found myself reading hyper-critically once I began writing. On the flip-side, I was also paranoid lest I inadvertently borrow a phrase or idea from another author as I wrote my own romances. Most writers I know have said to themselves (or someone else!) “Oh, I would have said that like this…”

Come on, ‘fess up. You know you have!

But I also marvel when I see how a favorite author has managed to wrap me up in their world. I am just now re-reading Under the Dome, by Stephen King, and even if his style is familiar, it works for me. I lose myself in the tension while simultaneously keeping part of my brain back and taking notes.

“See how he did that?”

Maybe, someone will read my words and think something very similar.

The Blue Hat: Writer

Being critical of someone else’s words makes me feel guilty, as a writer. It really does. Because I know my own words aren’t always the best, either, but they are what I have in my head and so I use them, you know?  I use them fully aware that my readers are like unto me and that they will be saying, “Oh, I could have said this so much better!

Still, I have been known to gloat preen over a choice phrase or two… And I find that, when I do? The phrases are not the ones that stick with my editors or readers. This both depresses and encourages me. I remind myself that some of my favorite phrases might not have been the author’s chosen jewels, either.

As a writer, I find I am more deliberate as I craft some scenes. The scenes that require me to physically get up and work them out on my living room floor, or the moments that I have to push, word by stubborn word, from a crevice in my brain to the emptiness of the screen in front of me. I try to write in a way that will make my ideal reader lose themselves in what I give them.

And while I’m writing? I’m also reading. The green hat is always on my head. It has, after all, been there longest!

The Red Hat: Editor

In many ways, this is the easiest hat for me to wear. Perhaps because I am critical by nature. Perhaps because I’ve been doing it consciously for almost forty years. Perhaps it’s just because it is vastly easier to improve someone else’s writing than to improve my own. Or all of the above!

As I write a first draft, I remind myself it is a first draft. First, meaning there will be more. I am lenient with myself as I write, but I never forget the tips and notes my editors have given me on prior works, either. Be it something as mundane as a notation from the Chicago Manual of Style or something as complicated as separating internal monologue—a valid storytelling tool—from the “telling, not showing” that writers strive to avoid, I have so many things to sort through as I let a scene spill from my imagination to the keyboard and then to the screen in front of me. My internal editor pricks my writing-conscience with reminders that can sometimes get in the way of some serious “writing mojo.”

But! I’m a professional, I remind myself. I focus, create, and then I look over what I’ve typed and tweak it with the recent editorial reminders still sharp in my head.

And then…? I move forward.  There’s a The End I’m trying to reach.

Balance or Personality Multitasking?

Picture me sitting here at my iMac at a tiny computer desk in a small room. Behind me, the Spousal Unit has a movie on the flatscreen. In other rooms, the Offspring Units are occupying themselves in that Summer Vacation, Responsibility-Free zone that occurs when duties have been completed, dinner has been eaten, and all there is left to do is relax.

(And they say they want to grow up. Ha!)

I have a novel in progress behind the window in which I am typing this post. The novel involves a real historical character and a cast of fictional folk whom I have grown to care about. I have wanted to write this book for a long time, truly.

On my Kindle, there is a list of books I am going to read as soon as The End has been achieved for this novel in progress. Due to my “No Reading Policy,” I haven’t wanted to read anything that might be remotely connected to what I’m writing. But when the first draft is done? I’m all over the novels that are waiting—I can even see the covers behind my eyes. Tempting…tempting.

I find myself writing a bit more slowly for this story. My head is full of conflicts. Not only are there the conflicts inherent in the plot, but also the way I am approaching this. My lead editor knows the series I’m writing has a certain style and I can’t really deviate from that, but I am thinking always of her comments as I write this final book in the series. How can I improve so that my manuscript will have fewer critiques from her? (If you’re reading this, E, know that this is a good thing, in my estimation. It just slows me down some!) As an editor myself (yep, people pay me to red-pen their words, too) I know how much work she puts into these comments. I’d like her not to have to work so hard on my account.

All of this is in my head with every sentence I write. The anticipation of completion, the attention to detail, the wish to improve as I go—it’s a balancing act.

I do it all joyfully. The challenge is invigorating, the results boost me with such a feeling of accomplishment that makes any effort worth it. I hope the end result is worth it for others, too.

About the Author

Sandi Layne lives in Maryland with her husband and two sons, but no pets. She writes historical fiction and contemporary inspirational romance and can be found on her website: http://sandyquill.com, twitter: http://twitter.com/sandyquill, and Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/sandi_layne  Look for her latest title, An Unexpected Woman, to be released by The Writer’s Coffee Shop on July 11, 2013. The date is also her 21st Wedding Anniversary, which she will celebrate by doing the marketing with her husband.

On Writing: Defining Your Conflict

Conflict 101: Survival

Guest post by Stacy Teitel

developing conflict in writing

© Empire331 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

When I was in middle school, we had an assignment in our English class to read a book and give a ten-minute speech about it at the front of the classroom. *gulp*

I absolutely hated talking in front of groups of people, even small groups. I was not only socially awkward, but an extreme introvert with a side of nervousness—the kind of nervousness that makes me lightheaded. I used to think that if I stood very still, like using a reptilian defense mechanism, people’s attention would pass over me (and I could slowly back out of the room).

Sadly not. I went through with my speech because I was too afraid to ask the teacher to give me a break. So there I stood, timidly describing a teen werewolf horror and things that happened in it.

Abruptly the teacher told me my time was up.

I realized I hadn’t even gotten to the juicy parts of the book! I’d barely shaved away at the surface! As the nervous haze that caused millions of dots to appear around my vision started to clear, I asked myself “where did I go wrong?”

If you’re in a writing critique group, maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation.

You get asked, “What’s your story about?”

Well, there’s this guy and he comes home to find a group of robbers in his house and before he can call the cops, they make off with a valuable antique that has magical powers to… BAM. TIME IS UP.

Well, there’s this woman and she bumps into a handsome stranger who yells at her for being so clumsy, only to find out that he’s her boss at her new job she’s starting today… BAM. TIME IS UP.

But what is the story about? You could’ve sworn you said it somewhere. After all, you’ve been writing this book for months.

If we as writers can’t answer this question, then we can bet something is structurally wrong with our story. Even if we have an interesting protagonist, a plot with great potential, and months of research under our belts, all of those elements won’t hold together without the beating heart: conflict.

Conflict is a struggle between opposing forces. I won’t paste a dictionary definition and insult you. But that’s what it is in simple terms. When we try to apply this bare-boned definition to our stories, sometimes things get muddled. We get wrapped up in all the exciting things our characters are going to do, the obstacles they will face.

Whether you’re a pantser or plotter, just getting down the conflict in a line or two will keep you on track as you draft up your scenes.

Here’s a formula I use when I edit and analyze manuscripts. (If the author has nailed down her conflict, everything will plug in to this formula and it’s a beautiful thing.)

If [the protagonist] doesn’t [get something], [the antagonist] will [kill him].

This looks dramatic, but let me explain…

Death can be anything from basic survival, losing a job, to a broken heart. It’s whatever is at stake for the protagonist. He’s trying either to get something or to get away from something, and achieve a goal. I’m going to plug examples into this formula.

If [John] doesn’t [escape the island], [mega crocodile] will [eat him]. <– Physical death.

If [Sarah] doesn’t [earn good grades for the rest of the school year], [her parents] will [forbid her to date Kevin]. <– Emotional death.

If [Harry] doesn’t [destroy all the horcruxes], [Voldemort] will [commit genocide]. <– Genocide to magical and muggle races! 

Some of these examples are silly, but it doesn’t matter. Silly reasons are important if they’re important to your character.

But what about emotional conflict?

If [Marcy] doesn’t [confront her drug addiction], [Marcy] will [lose her husband]. <– Emotional death, with possible physical death if she doesn’t quit that crack. 

In this last example, Marcy is both the protagonist and antagonist. She is her own worst enemy and the conflict comes from within her.

So, next time someone asks us what our stories are about, we will have the conflict nailed down in our summary.

After Holly Brand saves her friend from a serial killer werewolf that’s been terrorizing her small town, Holly becomes the most popular girl in school and a local hero. But another killer is out there—the once-popular Gina, who’s going through a few howling transformations of her own. Holly tries to stop Gina’s pursuit for revenge (and bloodthirsty appetite) so she won’t become a werewolf’s next meal.

Perfect!

Now, if I could go back in time to my middle school English class…

About the Author

developmental editor apoideaeditorial.comStacy Teitel is a book editor at Apoidea Editorial, a developmental editing service to help fiction writers strengthen their manuscripts. When she’s not working with authors, you can find her copyediting and managing content for eMarketingVS. Some of her favorite things to do are watching political and crime shows, drinking good-quality coffee, and snuggling up with her Kindle. @ApoideaEdits www.apoideaeditorial.com