Friday, May 8, 2015

So You Think You Know How Your Story Goes . . .

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Do you remember those old Choose Your Own Adventure books? They started the story and then at the end of a chapter the main character would come to a crossroad and need to make a decision. Their options would be presented and then YOU as the reader got to decide which option you thought they should take. If you opted for the first one, you went to page 45 and if you opted for the second one, you skipped to page 53 etc. Then at the end of that chapter, the same thing happened until you reached a conclusion. Then it was always fun to go back and read what COULD have happened if they made a different choice.

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Endless possibilities with your storyline is something I've been thinking about lately as I'm working to tie up a bunch of loose ends on my current WIP. I think sometimes we brainstorm for a while and come up with an idea and then see that as THE WAY the story should go. And we stop thinking about other possibilities. Especially after we've written a scene, it's easy to try to make what we've written work simply because we've already imagined it that way.

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Allow yourself the possibility to switch tracks. 

As an exercise, choose a scene in your book that you may have already finished, or where you are currently and then think about all the players. Consider new options. Pretend you have to come up with 3-5 directions the story could go and write a synopsis/outline paragraph on each one. Then REALLY consider your options. Are you putting your character into the most sticky situation? Is the option you're set on going to stretch the MC's boundaries? Make them grow as a person? Dig as deep as they can? Are you creating the MOST amount of tension between characters?

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Think though the MAIN ideas of your story. Are you taking the themes through your WIP and pushing them to the absolute limits? What's the FURTHEST you can push an idea? Are you giving yourself false roadblocks because you think something should happen a certain way? Are you allowing your own biases to creep into your words? Are you allowing your characters wiggle room to breathe and do something you didn't expect from them?

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Reanalyze Your Opening
If you're not sure where to try this, one really good place is your opening scene. Many times when we start writing we're not really sure where the best place to open the story is. We may THINK we know, but don't be afraid to go back and rethink your choice after you have a more solid grip on your characters.

Just for fun, write three different openings for your manuscript. And they don't all have to start in the same time or even with the same character. Let your mind FLOW and be open to other possibilities. Get rid of your roadblocks and you may be surprised where you can go.

Here are some ideas to get your juices flowing:
  • Try writing the scene from a different character's perspective.
  • Try opening you book from a later chapter and see how it affects everything. Try from Ch 2 or 3. Many agents say there's way too much backstory in opening chapters and the manuscript opens in the wrong place.
  • Give your character a fatal flaw you haven't previously considered. Make them as multi-dimentional as you can.
  • Let your characters react in a big way. Let them get mad, hurt, angry, sad, hysterical. 
  • Switch the setting. Place your character somewhere totally new and see how they react.
  • Consider the emotional arc of the character. What's the one thing that would break them? Then make that happen.
  • Make sure your main characters all have a personal stake in the story. Don't let anyone be there for convenience. 
  • Look for places when characters agree on something. What will happen if a character says NO instead? Put as much conflict into every scene as you can. All your dialogue should have some degree of conflict in it: emotional conflict, people that are at odds with one another, different agendas, unspoken fears etc. Good Conversation = Conflict 
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The challenge for today is to open your mind and allow yourself to rethink things, to consider different angles, to push yourself and your characters into new spaces. You may be surprised where it takes you.

GOOD LUCK and happy writing!!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Internal Dialogue.

Here's a grammar tip on Internal dialogue:

I don't know why but I struggle knowing how to format internal dialogue in my writing. While writing her first novel, Mary often felt confused about how she should portray her character's innermost thoughts.

There you go. That should be a good example of proper use and formatting of internal dialogue in a piece of writing. What is internal dialogue? and Why? How? do we use it in our writing? Well, let's find out exactly . . .

First, the definition.

I liked this definition according to
Internal dialogue (or Inner dialogue) is simply the speech of a character to himself. He hears it and the reader hears it, but other characters have no idea what's going on in his head. It's the same for us and our thoughts. Unless we reveal them, no one knows what we're thinking.

But did you know that there are two different types of internal dialogue?

Direct internal dialogue indicates actual quotes coming from the character.
Indirect internal dialogue would be the character's thoughts and actions without it being an actual quote.

For example:

Direct:  Walton is the kindest man I know. I wish he would ask me on a date.

Indirect: The kindness Walton showed made me wish he would ask me on a date.

Now on to formatting. This can get tricky because there are several different ways you can format internal dialogue in your writing. I'll first address what looks to be the most common and easiest way according to the research I have done.

Italics is recognized as the most common way to indicate direct internal thought. Using italics creates greater narrative distance, so most people use this format. Typically you would only italicize direct internal dialogue not indirect. If you notice in the above example, I italicized the direct internal thought but not the indirect. Here is another example of using both direct and indirect and how you would format it.

Both indirect and direct (1st person): Even though he was late for class, Walton showed a unique kindness to me when I tripped and my papers flew down the stairs. I wish he would ask me on a date.

This was written in first person but the same thing would apply for third person.

Third person: Even thought he was late for class, Walton showed a unique kindness to Lucy when she tripped and her papers flew down the stairs. I wish he would ask me on a date.

A couple of things to note in this last example. First, the direct internal thought was changed to first person. If your character is having an internal thought, they wouldn't think in third person (unless maybe your character is extremely egocentric, I guess). Second, the direct internal thought was changed to be in present tense. If your character is having a direct quote come from their head, they are not going to think about things in the past tense. This is hard to explain but to me, makes sense.

Other formatting options: 
Quotation marks: Occasionally, you will see people use quotation marks to indicate thoughts. This is not commonly used but if you do decide to use quotation marks, I would highly suggest adding tags. A very few people do not use tags but it could get very confusing if you don't.

Tags: Tags define who is speaking and indicates that it is a thought. My personal opinion is that they are unnecessary and it tends to take a reader out of the story but it may be a style choice you want to make. If you do use them, here are a few rules:
When you italicize your internal dialogue remember that you do not italicize the tag. Here is an example using italics and tags:

Walton is the kindest man I know, she thought. I wish he would ask me on a date.

Paragraphs: One final thought about formatting is to create new paragraphs. From my research, it is debatable whether you should or should not create a new paragraph when adding internal dialogue. Ultimately, you don't have to but you can if you want. It seems like direct internal dialogue should be treated similarly to regular dialogue. 

When? and Why? to use internal dialogue.
Finally, I'd like to address when and why to use Direct Internal Dialogue. 

This part is completely opinion but I love reading direct internal thoughts when used correctly. To me, it allows a deeper understanding, helps make a personal connection with the character, and allows for a distinct voice to come through.

Here are some great thoughts from

"Most fiction is character driven, and I'm convinced that readers' most-loved fiction is that which allows us to delve into the innermost thoughts of its characters, in the process finding moments of recognition--the chance to recognize ourselves in fictional characters and identify with them on multiple levels--and discovering more about ourselves. We read fiction to see ourselves reflected back, both the good and the bad, and we're able to do that when authors allow us into the deepest recesses of their characters' minds.

And so, if you think it's not important to reveal your characters' deep thoughts, you're missing out on an opportunity unique among all the art forms to connect deeply with your audience, your readers. The success of your book will hinge on connecting with your readers, and writing meaningful inner monologue will be one of the most important things you can do to ensure this connection is made."

I completely agree with Arlene Prunkl's statement. I think we need to remember how the internal dialogue creates that connection with our readers and allows readers to relate to our story. Whether the connection happens through the good, bad, or the ugly in our lives, it's important as human beings to understand that we are not alone in this world.

There are many purposes behind when and why you might use internal dialogue but here are a couple of suggestions/thoughts to remember.
-Remember that the dialogue should either build character or help along your plot.
-Refrain from using direct internal dialogue too much but recognize how succinct it can allow information to be given.
-Above all else, remember to be consistent!!  If you use italicized direct internal dialogue four times in the first chapter, you should probably try to do about the same in each subsequent chapter. However you format it the first time, remain doing the same throughout the remaining text.

Thanks for reading along!  And don't forget to JUST WRITE SOMETHING!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Editing - 6 Tips to Keep You Sane

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Editing . . . the dreaded nemesis for most writers. The only thing worse than a blank page is a redlined page in need of attention. It's so satisfying to finally write THE END, but it's such a tricky little mind game. The End really means HAHA, YOU'RE REALLY JUST AT A NEW BEGINNING. This may sound like tough love, but you'll thank me later because your expectations will be closer to reality. 

Everyone has blind-spots in their writing. Everyone has pet words. And we all have rules we love to break. Subsequent drafts after the first one are the place to flesh all these out.  Here are some tips to help with big-picture edits:

Plot Holes - You MUST search and destroy plot holes. Even if it means you have to do a lot of rewriting. I know it's daunting since you're DONE already. But that's why if you are thinking of THE END as another BEGINNING, it won't hurt as much. I've found that it helps to either print out your book or read it on an e-reader. It switches your brain from writing/editing mode to reader mode. This is crucial in finding plot holes. I keep a running list on my phone of questions that pop into my mind as I'm reading but I don't address them until after I've finished the whole thing. 

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Senses -   It's very easy to stick with one or two senses while you're writing. Which ones have you omitted in your manuscript? I'm very visual so most of my first time descriptions are what the character sees. I have to add in what they smelled or how something sounded or tasted etc. in later drafts. It can help to highlight descriptions if your printed manuscript. Then you can easily skim through them see identify what's lacking. As part of the Delicious Reads Book Club I'm in, we create an entire dinner menu from our selected book. It was eye opening to me to think about what would be created from my book. Make sure you're using all of the senses in the descriptions.
Setting - Beefing up your setting will give you the most bang for your buck. If you don't have enough setting, it may not necessarily break your story, but it will leave it feeling flat. BUT if you have rich descriptions of the surroundings, everything will come to life. Think of setting as the salt to your entree. Another thing to think about is the view you're presenting. As the author, you shine flashlight on what you want your readers to see. Make sure that you describe things that are close to the characters and things that are further away so that the reader has layers to what they imagine. 

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Character Depth - This one is crucial and tricky. You have to give your characters enough depth to enrich the story, but not too much that it weakens your plot. For example, in my book REMality, there are four POV characters: Ryker, Lauren, Maya and Carter. In my mind I tried to write the characters this way:

Each of them have their own life, their own motivations, their own goals and fears, as represented by their own circle. Where their lives intersect is my story. So I tried to keep my story in the gray center section and have just enough bleed through into their personal lives to give them depth and make them feel read. I tried to portray the four POV's together in a layered, linear way for my manuscript. That's just how it worked in my head. Hopefully it transfers to the pages. 

Everything in your story happens to for a reason. In screenwriting, there are only so many pages to fit the story, so every single word has value. Think about all of the production expense to create a movie. They can't afford to have anything erroneous. Make sure every word is worth the "money" that will be spent for production. Each sentence should move the plot forward. If you can combine things and still have the same effect, do it. If it's not moving the plot forward . . . kill those darlings.

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Dialogue - Make sure your dialogue is snappy. You want it to flow so well that the reader forgets they are reading and it turns into a scene in their head. I've found reading all my dialogue out loud helps a ton. You'll catch things that you don't when you read it in you head. Maybe you have too many he said/she said tags that should be obvious to the reader, or maybe you say your character's names in dialogue too often. In most face to face conversations you don't address the person by name very often. Maybe you have pet words or phrases that you need to catch. Contractions are great in conversation because we tend to be lazy speakers. Your writing can sound stiff if you aren't utilizing contractions. Beta Readers are a great way to catch your a lot of these aspects as well. 

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Action Vs. Thinking - Make sure your plot isn't saddled with too much internal dialogue. Something needs to be happening while your character is thinking. The reader should largely be kept in the present. That's why it's so important to divvy up the backstory in little increments. Readers often skip forward to dialogue, so make sure there you're giving them enough to keep them interested. 

Editing is not easy. It can be daunting and frustrating. But the only way to an amazing manuscript is through intense editing. So dig in and just know there is still an end in sight. 

There's a great list of things to keep an eye on as you're editing from this post on The Editor's Blog:

For setting and background—
Sight, scent, sound, taste, touch
Color—visual color as well as emotional color
Setting description
Background characters going about their normal business
Background events that don’t direct story events but add to atmosphere
For characters—
Character thoughts
Character emotions
Character reactions
Character interaction with setting and with the props of a setting
Character habits and quirks
Character motivation
Character goals
For plot—
Highs and lows
A climax
A resolution
Fast-paced scenes
Slow-paced scenes
Moments for readers to catch their breaths
Hooks at the ends and beginnings of chapters
Events worth following
Cause and effect
For mechanics/technical issues—
Variety in sentence construction
Variety in word choice
Word choices that fit characters
Variety in punctuation
Variety in scene and chapter length

At a writing conference recently one of the authors shared that he firmly believes the real magic in his books are created in the 5-7th rewrites. This was disheartening and motivating at the same time. Your sweet spot may come sooner or later, but keep at it until you feel totally confident. Writing is not for the faint of heart, but you already knew that.

Don't worry. You've got this.

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(Post contributed by Brooke)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

How Hit TV Pilots Can Help Us Write Novels Agents Want

I recently discovered something really interesting: some of my favorite TV Shows all started out with the same director of their pilot episode (first show of the series). I decided to do a little research on the director and found he came to make 17 out of his 19 pilot shows get picked up by a network and stay successful. For writers, this is like having a first chapter sent to an agent and having 17 our of 19 agents request to publish your book just from the first episode. How cool is that?

Now who is this crazy successful director?  His name is David Nutter and he is my new idol.

David Nutter, Director

Before I go into the stuff I've read on him and how he has made his these shows successful, I think we all need to know what shows this director has worked on:

Millennium (1996)
Sleepwalkers (1997)
Roswell (1998)
Dark Angel (1999)
Smallville (2001)
Dr. Vegas (2003)
Tarzan (2003)
Jack & Bobby (2004)
Supernatural (2005)
Traveler (2006)
The Mentalist (2008)
Eastwick (2009)
Chase (2010)
The Doctor (2011)
Arrow (2012)
The Advocates (2013)
The Flash (2014)

Now I bet you can look at that list and pick out at least 3-4 shows that have been your favorites. He's actually been the director/producer on many other shows (including X-files, Game of Thrones, and ER). How's that for a list?

A pilot is most commonly thought of as the first episode of a television series… the first story in a series of many more stories… and while this is often the case, it’s not entirely accurate. The truth is: a pilot, whether in script form or actually produced, is a selling tool used to illustrate what the TV series is about and how it works.  In other words, a pilot is designed to convince network or studio executives that this series a good investment of their money and airtime.  Some pilots never even make it to air… they’re simply used to get the series “picked up,” then discarded. The first few chapters of our books are just like that. Hopefully our editors let us keep most of what we have written, but either way, our first 10 pages are what sell our book to agents and publishers.
So what makes Nutter's pilots successful and how can that help us make our first chapters shine and step out of the slush pile?

1.) A Likable Main Character - Does that mean the main character is good looking, perfect in everything they do, makes the right choices, and has super powers? No (though that may be true for some of Nutter's pilots). Nutter says that one of the common threads in all of his pilots is that the main character has a void in their life and "it's that deep emotional thing that the audience can grasp onto that I try to bring out as a director." Take the pilot of "Arrow" for example. In the first episode, we meet Oliver Queen. We find out the billionaire was a player who actually ran off with his girlfriend's sister and that sister died on Oliver's boat when it shipwrecked. Does that sound like a likable character? Not exactly. But then we see that he was shipwrecked for five years and he has changed and we like him because he wants to bring justice to those that have poisoned his city. We find out he still loves the girl he left behind, protects his family and friends at all costs, and has to hide how much he has changed from the ones he loves - even pretending to still be a playboy so that he can moonlight as a hero. Now we can like him because all of us at one time or another has had to hide a part of who we are and we've all made mistakes and want to make up for them. Every one of us has family or friends that we would do anything for. 

I watched many of Nutter's pilots and read several articles from the director himself. Then I put together a list of what I believe makes his shows successful. Now some of these are pretty much self-explanatory or you've heard before, but I think when you take into account all of these ideas and use them when you revise, you can make your novel and, specifically, your first first few chapters - your pilot, if you will - successful.

2.) Quick Audience Connection with Main Character - Everyone wants to be able to relate with the main character of their show. That's why we keep watching. The audience needs to identify with something early on with your main character. If your characters are generally unlikeable, even if you think they're interesting, it won't carry a reader/viewer to the next scene. Nutter did this with the series "Flash" in the character of Barry Allen. Straightaway in the first episode we see this awkward forensic scientist who clumsily walks into people in the street and talks fast, but notices things like Sherlock Holmes. The first time he's on a crime scene we already like him because he ignores what everyone says and gets right into the dirt to find the killer. 

Barry Allen in "The Flash" 
3.) A Character with a Past (Deep Characterization) - Few pilots starts off with the main character being born and us seeing him grow up to be the doctor or super hero. Most pilots start somewhere in the middle of the story, and rightly so. BUT, every character has a past and we need to see bits and pieces of it right at the beginning. We don't have to have all the answers. We just need a glimpse of their past or how they got to where they are when we first meet them. Maybe its something they think, a look between two friends, or something someone says to that character that lets us in on who they are. Every character we write isn't just a character. Character refers to the essence of who anyone in your novel truly is on the inside. Is he or she a good person or a bad person? A hero or a villian? Character is the spirit of that person, while characterization is the quantifiable result of who they are. Every character we write should have a back story and several pages of characterization. Does that mean we share that in our first chapter? NO! But it will influence how we write the character.

Max from "Roswell" telling about his past.

4.) A Compelling Story - I know this is kind of obvious, but true more than most of us think. If you don't have a good story to begin with, doing #1-3 won't matter. When choosing scripts that he has directed, Nutter said, "I guess the simplest answer I can give you is that I've got to fall in love with it. It’s got to move me in some way. I've got to be touched emotionally by something. It can’t be just flash and no substance or, ‘Just the facts ma’am,’ without any heart. And at the end of it I say to myself, ‘Do I want to watch the next episode?’ That’s really what it’s all about."  

5.) A Variety of Emotions - 
Whether we are a female or male, we are all drawn to emotion. It drives us in our decisions, it gets out blood flowing, brings tears to our eyes, and makes us laugh. Think right now of your favorite book or movie. Now think of why it is your favorite. I can guarantee that there is some kind of emotion associated with it. Lust. Anger. Joy. Heartache. These feelings are what make us come back for more. And this is where we find good writing - in the emotions.

The main difference between TV Shows and novels is that in TV shows the emotions have already been read from a script and interpreted by actors and directors on the screen for us to see. In novels, we have to write what we want the reader to interpret as emotions. We do this through the tone of our words, the setting, dialogue, and the actions of our characters. 

Laurel in "Arrow" telling Oliver off after he returns.
So to sum it up, your "pilot" chapters of your book should have: a likable main character, quick audience connection with the main character, a character with a past (deep characterization), a compelling story, and a variety of emotions. 

Now get those agent to "pick up" your book!


My novel, Remembrandt, is now available!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Watch the stages to help with your pages!

Watch the stages to help with your pages!

How can theater, acting, and the stage  help your writing? Acting and writing are so incredibly similar. Two different ways of storytelling. Obviously, I’m not the first person to connect or compare the two but I enjoyed looking at one to help reinforce the other. It’s another way to help wrap our brains around making stories and hopefully, increase our abilities, right?

In the podcast Writing Excuses, season 3 episode 14, Mary Robinette Kowal talks about puppetry and what the five principles of puppetry and how they apply to writing. 

Go here to listen to the actual podcast…

Here is my lengthy summary and sometimes my own words/thoughts added in…

Mary Robinette Kowal -  The 4 Principles of Puppetry   


1.       Focus – 

      Focus indicates thought.  What you show the audience is what they have to think about. You can only show them one thing at a time. So, what you are having your audience focus on (or what your puppet/character focuses on) needs to be the most important thing happening at that moment.

2.       Breath or rhythm – 

      indicates emotion. In puppetry, how you breathe indicates what is going on. A sigh can indicate love or frustration. Panting can indicate physical exhaustion or excitement. When you write, the rhythm you use can help create the pacing AND the tone of the story. For example, if you use short, choppy sentences, you are going to create a faster pacing and rhythm.

3.       Muscle –

      Muscle creates the illusion that a puppet (or character) is moving on their own. If the audience can see the puppeteer (aka author), then their suspension of disbelief is ruined. So you need your characters to have solid motivation. Actions and reactions need to happen because that is what the character would naturally do, not because it’s what the plot requires. Also, you need to consider what the physical consequences are to your setting. Make sure it makes sense to have things located in their proper places. Mary gives the example of having a tannery in the middle of a village. It wouldn’t happen because the uric acid being dumped into the streams would drive the neighbors in the village crazy. An author shouldn’t plan something like that (having a tanner in the middle of a village) just for convenience.

4.       Meaningful movement – 

      your body language and movement needs to have a purpose.    In puppetry, bobbing a head every time it speaks conveys no information. If a character picks up a water glass, there has to be a reason to go for the water glass at that moment – either emotional content, plot content, or some other meaning. Mary gives the following example:

“I don’t like what you’re saying to me.” She looked away from him. “I don’t understand it at all.”
                This is not meaningful movement. What is she looking at?
“I don’t like what you’re saying to me.” She fiddled with the knife on the table. “I don’t understand it.”

   Here, that fiddling with the knife on the table immediately starts to tell you what she’s thinking about. If she’s going from her thoughts to ‘I need to play with this knife. . . ‘ Much more meaningful movement.

5.      Practice -
             I’m not sure if they didn’t get to the fifth principle or what but the last thing mentioned was a writing prompt. So, I’m going to say that the fifth principle is to PRACTICE which obviously translates into writing.

All of her thoughts on puppetry led me to think about the stage and theater and how those things can relate to writing. For example…

Blocking is a term used both on the stage and on the page.
a.       In theater, the definition is the movement and/or positions the director determines for proper dramatic effect.
b.      In a book, it is placement of characters in the scene.
When you are blocking a scene on stage, there are a few important basic elements to try to remember…
1.       You should be able to see all of the characters on the stage during a scene. Not necessarily all at the same time, but all of the characters on the stage need to be important to the scene otherwise, what’s the point of even being there. So, they should be viewed by the audience at some point. Similarly, when writing a scene in a book, every character needs to have a purpose. For example, say J.K. Rowling was to write a scene in potions class. Obviously, any student in the scene would have a purpose because they are actually taking the class but if she then threw in say, Hagrid, he would need to have a reason to be there. He shouldn’t be there just because Jo (can I call you Jo?) likes the character of Hagrid. Also, it would be odd if the scene focuses on Harry alone and the other students are never even mentioned when he and they are all supposed to be in class. Not that this scene could never happen, but hopefully, you see my point.

2.       The blocking should help feature the correct actors at the appropriate moments.
There are so many ways to feature actors on stage. It can be done with lighting, or by everyone else on stage looking at the featured actor, or by movement, or even by just locating the actor center stage. BUT, if the director doesn’t choose the correct blocking, the whole mood and meaning of the scene can be ruined. Likewise when writing, the appropriate characters should be featured at the appropriate times. This one seems like a no-brainer, but I have read things in the past and wondered because the scene to me would come across much stronger if it was from a different point of view or if the author had focused on a different character.

3.       Blocking should create a stage picture.
At any point during the show, you should be able to take a picture of the actors on the stage and be able to tell what the actors are doing without explanation. (Just a side note – I love this because I happen to adore doing stage photography. It’s one of my hobbies besides writing.) Directors work to make sure actors are at different heights, different poses, and in different locations to help create interest, mood, and emotion. There are many ways to liken this in your writing. One obvious way is to vary your settings, another is to make sure your characters are unique to each other and not just in the way they look but also in their movement, habits, flaws, and strengths. Take into consideration what angle your audience is viewing the scene and how might they get the best advantage for the action. Creating “stage pictures” in your writing can polish your scenes.

Ok. I think I probably could go on and on and this is only ONE stage term. There’s also casting, directing, exposition, masking, the proscenium arch, run time, etc, etc.

Next time you go to a theater production, take time to recognize the story-telling aspects that you can use to improve your own writing. I’m sure you’ll come away from the stage with plenty to use on your page.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Where To Get Reviews

I was surprised when I received an email saying that it was my turn for tip.  Since I wasn't ready for it, I replied to the email asking if there was anything specific my fellow writers would like to know.

Robin replied she would like to know about getting reviews and where to go get them.

Reviews are a hard thing for me to get behind.  I know that publishers like them.  I know they are supposed to help sell the book.  But, there is so much fake out there on the internet.  How authentic is that review anyway?  I have heard from lots of different authors, musicians, and artists, that the best way to sell your work is by word of mouth.  So why get a review?  People aren't going to purchase your book unless a friend recommends it anyway.  What's the point?

A couple things I learned:

1.  Reviews help to raise your profile.

2.  A good review will get you more work later.

3.  They also show that someone who supposedly knows something about writing and books likes your work.

Alright, so the point is that you have to get them.

Now where to get them.

Blogs (specifically book lover blogs)
Authors you like and know
University newspapers
Radio shows (don't discount the online ones)
Pod casts
Kirkus (paid)
Publisher's Weekly (paid)

This site has a list of helpful links to blogs and podcasts that do reviews.  Also doing your own google search could bring up blogs more specific to your genre of book.

But, as David Farland says here, the world's most important book reviewer is YOU!  Get behind your book and get the word out!!!

(P.S.  Robin has a YA suspense novel releasing this fall.  Remembrandt needs to be read by YOU!  Because it's awesome!)
(Also, a huge thank you to Jefferson Montoya for letting me pick his brain about reviews.  His music inspires me every day.  Give it a listen.)

(Those were not so subtle hints to check out these two people with wonderful talents.  You won't regret it!)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Where do you get YOUR ideas?

Something authors get asked often is, “Where do you get your ideas?” One time, I helped set up an author’s visit to my kids' school. Brandon Mull was coming to speak and he asked us to have the kids come up with questions for him to answer. Without time to have every question answered, we sifted through them to find some of the most interesting. The person I was “sifting” with was a friend of mine who along with her husband often assisted Brandon with his school visits. She told me to throw out the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” because Brandon got asked that all the time and it wasn’t worth taking time for. Sure enough, that question appeared in about one of every five questions. At the time, I wondered why he wouldn’t want to answer it – especially if so many kids asked.

I’ve since discovered that it really is just not a good quality question to ask because most of the time, authors don't know exactly how to answer. Most authors are prepared to answer it anyway because it doesn’t go away. Some say things such as – “everywhere” or “daydreaming”  or even some odd place like “Pooghkeepsie.” Probably my favorite answer was given by Neil Gaiman when he said, “What you do is, 11:58 at night, you go down to the cellar. You roll the goat bones. There’ll be a banging on the door. It will open and this thing will fly in. It will explode. You’ll have a something like a chocolate. You eat it and you have an idea… I don’t know. You make it up out of your head.” You can watch his entire answer to this question HERE…

You see, I’ve worried about my ideas. I have A LOT of ideas but I wonder – are they good enough? Will my ideas come across to everyone else as boring, overdone, or cliché? Do I have anything original in me or will I only ever be able to produce regurgitated material? Is it ALL about that ONE idea? Do I have to have that one brilliant idea in order to succeed?

Jim Butcher says it definitely is NOT all about that one idea. He argued that even if your idea has been done a lot, you can still put your own spin on it and get a new and vibrant story out of it. There were others who argued with him that “The Idea” was what was most important; that even if you are a horrible writer, when you have a brilliant idea, your book can be successful. And so, someone challenged Jim by giving him two “horrible” ideas with which he was supposed to create something new and vibrant. The ideas given to him were Pokemon and the The Lost Roman Legion. Jim went on to create and sell a 6 book successful series based off of those “horrible” ideas. He has also rocked the New York Times Bestsellers List and has published around 30 books not including short stories and comics. I think he has proved his point. (You can watch him narrate this story HERE...

But, what if you get stuck? You’ve worked and worked and all of a sudden, nothing comes? Or what if you have too many ideas? You just don’t know where to begin or where to continue?

There are tons of ways to organize yourself before you start a book. There’s drawing an arc with plots points and character profiles and the Save the Cat method and all kinds of outlining and other ideas but I’m not really talking about organizing here. (Though being organized can be very helpful to many authors. Some detest it and only write in the dead of night with hair standing on end while bags under their eyes grow larger and larger frantically scribbling before their muse leaves them for another year, but again, this is a separate topic.) 

What I want to talk a little about is gathering that inspiration and how to use it over and over.

Here are some great tools, activities, and tidbits to help you organize your ideas and find inspiration in the things around you…

1. – Inspiration board/ Smash journals/Pinterest/ etc…

These are obvious (I think?) but if you are stuck or need some organization, here are some great examples of crafts or online opportunities to increase that inspiration and find direction…

  •  Inspiration Boards – Sometimes being able to touch and see textures, patterns, and colors is all that is needed to jumpstart you toward the next section in your book.

I borrowed these images from

And these from

  • Smash journals - These are the same idea as an inspiration board only in journal format. You can also collect your daily mementos, such as concert tickets, restaurant napkins, or a smear of your current favorite eye shadow while finding inspiration for future projects.

This one I found floating around without a credit… sorry to whomever created it…

  • AND of course, there is PINTEREST - I am linking my book board (which up until just now has been private) to see how pinterest can help inspire your current project…

Many authors have pinterest boards.  Check out…

2. – Brainstorming activities…

These are just a few activities (there really are so so many) I have collected from authors on how to break out of a slump or how to discover more about your book…

Shannon has suggested that a great way to get to know your characters is to give them a personality rating.  There are several different systems that you can give them.

Here is one to try…


  • Writing Prompts by Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses is a podcast on all things writing done by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler. Not only do they have ingenious advice on writing, they also give writing prompts for each episode. Sometimes the prompts are a little out there they may just be what you need right then.

  • Keep an “Idea” folder by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon has talked about keeping an idea folder where he puts all of his ideas. He has talked about how he will look at that folder and then try to combine two of the ideas together. This is how he attributes most of the concepts for his books.

  • One final idea for helping jumpstart your creativity is to do Brainstorming activities.  Here are some examples…

a.       First line story starters.  Open up a book nearby and write down the first sentence or you can even pick out a sentence in the middle of the book then continue to write your own version of what comes next.

b.       Word association. Write down one word. Then write the next word that comes into your mind, and the next, and the next. For example…

Cinderella, shoe, foot, ankle, joint, attached, detached, fix, mechanic, robot, cyborg, half-man, handicapped, etc. (This was my attempt at a start for word association generating the idea of Cinder by Marissa Meyer.)

c.       Acting. Take a piece of a scene (your own or someone else’s) and act it out. You can ask others to help you with this and it can be fun. Afterward, write down how you felt and what happened as you experienced it.

OK, OK, tons of ideas and possibilities out there. Finding that one BIG IDEA isn’t as important but we all need to feel inspired and find creativity with our writing. I feel like I have only scratched the surface with all of this but hopefully, there is a start here; a direction to follow if the need should arise. Lastly, and most importantly…

As Henry Miller said...