Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don't be so Cliché!

When creating descriptions, it is tempting to go with something that is familiar. When making comparisons, we want to reach the widest audience and make sure they get it. But it is important to avoid clichés like the plague! Ooohhh, see how easy it is to slip into clichés?

There is a reason that clichés are cliché. They are good... er, were good. Honestly, they are still good, but they do not do an author any favors. Using clichés makes the author look lazy and unoriginal, even if that is not the case. The only time it is o.k. to use cliches is perhaps in your character's speech or to add a unique twist, when the cliche is broken. Otherwise find a better, more original way!

For Example

He followed her around like a little lost puppy.

Yes, dogs are loyal, but is it ever really a compliment to refer to your character as a dog? Isn't there a better way to describe this and convey the loyalty?

How about, he stuck to her like glue. Are there no other sticky objects? Oh, right... like a fly on honey.

Hmmm..... you had no idea how many cliché phrases would be locked out when avoiding cliches did you?

So, when describing a very loyal friend who goes everywhere with the other, how do you display that deep connection without using a cliché?

You get creative

Johnny and Leah had always been together. From the first time they met, something just clicked for him. He knew that one day she would realize it too. In his own quiet and unobtrusive manner, he was there for everything. He laughed with her and cried with her. He helped her through math and she helped him through natural science. Though she took their relationship at face value; he knew that no matter what happened, he would do anything for this girl. He would even die for her. Little did he know, that could very well be the case.

Now, I just used about 100 words to say basically the same thing as "Johnny followed Leah like a little lost puppy." (eight words.)

Which was more interesting? Which gave you a deeper feel for their connection? 


Clichés may convey a similar meaning, but they are lazy. As an author, don't be lazy. Make your work as original and unique as possible. Avoid the cliché!

What are some of the worst clichés you have experienced in writing? How would you avoid them? Share with us in the comments below.

Until next time, keep writing!

P.S. this is a great writers group exercise!! Get a list of clichés, pass them out and then re-write the cliché just like I did above!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Sense of Accomplishement

I have been sitting here for a half hour trying to focus my mind on editing and get this new post out. But all I can think about is that my first children's book is getting published! I am anxiously awaiting the first proof for my physical copies. I am spastically checking all my links, planning and plotting my marketing campaign!

So, we are going to take a short break from the endless editing tips and celebrate the joy and pride and sense of accomplishment you can look forward to when you finally finish and publish your own book! It is amazing! There is no feeling like it!

I am the first of my siblings to have completed a bachelors degree program and the day I graduated I was quite proud of my accomplishment, but it wasn't anything like this! I imagined my success in the business world would look something like the first image above. After graduation, I couldn't find a decent job. I finally took a position as a manager for Movie Gallery and bailed just before their boat went down to take a job that I was overqualified and underpaid for, but would at least pay the bills.

Things were tough with that job, and I kept putting applications in at other places, but nothing came of it. As my husband got closer and closer to graduation, I felt more guilty about taking a career job when I knew we wanted to leave the area once he graduated. My company gave me the chance to work from home and I thought this was the answer.

Working from home, I could be there for the kids and my husband could take a part-time job. I would have time to focus on my writing and slowly build my career with a little extra money from this job keeping us afloat. I started submitting queries to agents right and left. I started a sequel to that book. I felt like this might just be the best thing for me.

Two weeks before Christmas, my job laid me off. My world felt like it was crumbling. I was a failure! I could not support my family. I had a stack of rejection letters building up. The economy in my area was at an all-time low and my husband only had one year left of school. What were we going to do?

We ignored the problem through Christmas and the New Year, then I set to work looking for any job that could sustain us. On January 6th, I got a letter of interest from an agent. Less than a week after I sent her my full draft, she offered me a contract. My husband and I weighed the pros and cons and decided (with incredible support from my loving mother!) to take the leap of self-employment!

I started writing full-time. I started building my platform. I started this blog, which everyone said would make me money through Adsense (BTW, don't plan on living on Adsense, if you choose to make this leap! SOOOO NOT HAPPENING!!)

After a couple of crappy contract offers, my husband and I were beginning to doubt our decision. But he is in his last semester. I can't justify taking a job I know I might be leaving first of the year, so I knuckled down. My novel is still under contract, but I have tons of writing! What could I publish first?!?

And I pulled out Prince Vince, something I wrote back in high school, and started polishing! After months of working mad hours, worrying, plotting, planning and pushing the envelope; I have finally gotten a look at the finished product.

I feel giddy, I feel transcendent! It is almost like the first time I thought I fell in love!

When people like my link to my book, I feel like I did showing off my child for the first time.

When people talk about how much they liked it, I nod my head with a deep satisfaction. I did that! I made them feel that way!

When I see that another person bought my book on Amazon, I feel  on top of the world, ready to explode with my excitement!

Some of you out there are probably thinking I am completely mental. Some of you are envious of my ridiculous euphoria. Well, take the leap, commit yourself to finishing your project, spend the hours editing, re-editing, fighting to get it published, formatting, re-formatting, jumping through all the hoops with no guides and at the end when you find yourself landing on your feet... then you will feel the way I feel!

When you see your mom's eyes tear up because of your dedication page and you see the pride she feels in your accomplishment, then you will know how I feel.

It has been a long year of self-employment, building toward this day. Things are lining up and I am starting to see the possibility of success in this long, lonely road of being a writer!

Keep at it, believe in yourself, work as hard as you can and you can stand here too!

Until next time, keep writing!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Is Whom a Made up Word?

There are so many grammar mistakes out there, that we cannot possibly cover them all in one post... probably not even in a hundred posts! There is really no way to even systematically cover them all, so we will just wing it! Today we are going to review who/whom.

I can already feel some of you cringing. By the time we are done, you will love it!

Every time I see the word whom, I get a flashback to The Office. My favorite line is when Creed says "Micheal is right, it (whom) is a made up word used to trick students"  to which Oscar replies "Obviously, it is a real word- but I don't know how to use it correctly."

I laugh hysterically every time I see that episode (to get the full transcript of that scene click here!)

Creed isn't completely wrong in his sentiment! It does feel like the who/whom conundrum is simply a cruel teaser to confuse people. But it is not. Nor is whom the formal version of the word who, despite some people's desire. Honestly, sometimes I feel like someone throws whom into a sentence because they think it sounds more scholarly... but if you use it wrong, it makes you look less scholarly! So, how do you know what is right?

Well, as Pam says in The Office "It's whom when it is the object of a sentence and who when as the subject."

...And some of your eyes just glazed over... right?

Who in this group has diagrammed sentences since third grade? (I technically did it last year with my son, so I get to raise my hand!) Most people learn diagramming sentences once and then we don't use it again. We go based on whether it sounds or "feels" right. But with terms that are not commonly used, such as whom, we have not had enough exposure to know what sounds right.

So here is a fun, quick, little test (rather than trying to diagram your sentence!)  Take the sentence you are trying to analyze and substitute who/whom for a personal pronoun. If it is replaced for a subjective pronoun (I you, we, he/she, it, they.) then you use who. If it is replaced with an objective pronoun (me, him, her, it, us, them) then you use whom.


Who/whom shall I say is coming for dinner?
When re-phrased saying shall I say him just sounds silly. shall I say he... yup. (Oh, and you thought it was supposed to be whom because that sounds right? Don't trust me? Check out this Daily writing tips article!)

Whoever/whomever said life was easy was wrong!
He said life was easy... him said life was easy.  It is definitely whoever!

Whom/who do you like?
Answer the question. Do you like him or he? AHHHH!!!!!!

The men, four of whom/who were ill, could not afford the room.
four of they, or four of them!

Mrs. Nesbitt is the woman whom/who I had tea with last week. 
I had tea with her, I had tea with she....

Once you know this simple cheat, it becomes easy to figure out who/whom, whoever/whomever!!

Never let whoever torment you however they may! (who is tormenting you, he is tormenting you!)

Any tips or questions about specific instances where you are not sure which is right? Ask in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Grammar School Re-visited

Here's the deal with grammar: we all hate it, but we all need to use it properly! Why do we hate it? I could use all the lame answers we gave in high school, but the truth is, we hate it because it is hard! It is hard, because there are so many rules and the rules change all the time! Not all of the rules, mind you. Just enough to leave us slightly dazed and confused.  Grammar rules are bad enough when writing a technical paper, but when you have to implement them in a novel, it becomes a nightmare.

As a creative art form, stories are not required to follow the rules of grammar to the letter. Grammar, in a novel, is a tool to get the meaning of your story across. Which leaves the writer having to decide which rules can be broken and which cannot.

For example, it has become common practice in novels to start sentences with a conjunction. But the unspoken rule to this egregious grammatical error is that you are using it to draw attention to the point you are making in that sentence. (See how I did that?)

The problem with that philosophy is that my generation saw it in print and learned that it was okay to do so, without knowing the unspoken rule. This is probably one of the grammatical errors I catch most in my work. I overuse it entirely too much!

Stories are typically told in the vernacular, and grammar and vernacular are hardly bed-buddies. Really, they have a hard time even sharing a house together! Especially when you write a story where the main characters speak in a regional accent. Just throw grammar out the window!

Except that grammar is a tool that we use to help make our sentences clear to our readers. You cannot throw grammar out the window. Not even when you are writing a story in first person using a strong vernacular that deplores proper grammar usage. (For example, if your main character were Cajun?)

The big question is "how do we, as writers, use grammar to our best ability in our stories?" That goes back to research. I have no less than five grammar books on my bookshelves, all from different eras. I also have the benefit of the internet to aid me in researching grammar usage. And I have test readers to ensure that my story makes sense!

At the end of the day, most people will not pick up on grammar errors, as long as they understand what they are reading. That is what is most important, understanding the story. Don't believe me? Go back and read Raold Dahl. His grammar is attrocious! Yet, his stories are famous.

Mark Twain wrote in a Southern regional dialect for most of his stories. The grammar rules were horrendously abused! Yet we are required to read him in school; because the stories he tells are beautiful and life-changing, despite horrible grammar usage.

We will review grammar rules, but as we do so keep in mind that rules were made to be broken. Just mind how you break them. It doesn't matter if you follow the grammar rules to a T, if no one can understand your story. It doesn't matter if you break all the rules in the grammar book, as long as your readers can understand the story!

Keep that in mind as we review the grammar rules. I will not be looking at grammar from the typical primer attitude, I will be looking at it from the perspective of improving your writing and making the story clear to your audiences!! (Grammar Nazis, stay at home!!)

Let us know your thoughts on grammar, in fiction writing, in the comments below!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Taking Care of Content

There is this phrase running around the internet, content is king. Now obviously you thought the story was worth sharing, or you would not have written it; but that doesn't mean you are done. Now it is time to make sure that you are telling the story you wanted to tell. Make sure as you read through that all the story pieces fit together.

Are there gaps in your story, where it is not clear how the characters got from point A to point B? Fix it. This is not t.v. or movies, you don't get cut scenes in books! Are you spending a lot of time telling us what is happening? Pick some good spots to show us what is going on (through your characters thoughts, feelings, reactions). Don't spend the whole time showing, or the whole time telling. Mix it up!! (for more on showing vs telling, check out this interesting article)

Make sure the story flows. Give rich detail in the slower scenes, keep the fast paced scenes flowing. Remember in our planning phase, how I showed on the dry erase board the slowly building tension, a few dips as smaller issues were resolved, but all still building to the ultimate conclusion? Make sure you can feel that as you read. If you get bored, find out why it is boring. If it is boring to you, the author, what is it going to feel like to someone who does not have an emotional investment in its completion?

Cut out the inconsistencies. A lot of this will be easier to catch if you have your charts from our pre-planning phase at easy access when you are editing. Is there a point where you say someone is a cousin, then later make them an uncle? Look back to your character chart. Is there a point when you tell the readers that a character is one age, then later make them a different age. It should be on your character chart! Do you have a minor character that is falling flat, because you cannot connect with him/ her? Add a small side story that fits in with the big story, but gives the readers more about him/her. It should be easy if you have your character charts!

Is the story long enough? In the modern world, a novel is at least 60,000 words. Don't rip your readers off. If your story is only 40,000 words, figure out where you can add scenes to enhance the story or set it up for a sequel. Fluff on the slower scenes and give rich detail. Don't let your readers feel cheated. Give them what they are paying for, a full story.

What if your story is too long? This is a little harder to gauge, and really depends more on the genre you are writing. For example, science fiction and fantasy readers tend to be more forgiving of a long complicated story (as long as the pace is kept) whereas crime thrillers and romance readers want the nitty gritty and get bored with extraneous information. If you are writing a crime novel and getting into the 120,000 word range, you may want to look at cutting extraneous scenes, and check your pacing. The average novel is 60,000 to 80,000 words. As long as every scene is necessary and adds to the development of the story then you will be forgiven if it is a little long. But if you spend two pages describing a sitting room that has no significant relevance to your plot... you might want to revise!

Make sure that your story has a clear ending. Even if you are setting it up for a sequel, there needs to be a conclusion to the main plot in the story. Sure, you can leave a teaser at the end to whet their appetites for the next book, but don't leave the story hanging. Set it up for the next story to leave them wondering what will happen on the next adventure. Don't leave a bunch of unresolved issues, just have one or two threads to draw them into the next story.

If you are not planning a sequel, please DO NOT leave any story line incomplete! It will drive readers mad! Make sure everything that left questions in the readers mind is resolved at one point throughout the story. Wrap it up and slap a bow on it!.

And there is our first read-through in one easy post!

Until next time, keep writing!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Top Ten Unusual Homophonic Blunders

Probably the most common editing mistake that slips through, homophones are words that sound like another word. We all know the common lists of homophones to watch out for: its/it's, your/you're, to/two/too, there/their. These are the most common mistakes and it is unnerving because even though we all know them, we still miss them!

But, in editing and reading other people's works I have found quite a few less-common homophones that you should watch out for. You see, with the words above because everyone is familiar with them, even other readers may overlook them. (Not that it makes it o.k. to miss them!) With the following list, it can cause great confusion if you use the wrong word!

This confusion on your part can add to a great deal of confusion for your readers. Because a man becomes bolder when pressing his luck, but if he isn't careful a woman might hit him over the head with a boulder! (Although you could theoretically say that a man becomes boulder when drunk, but usually you would expect that man to become bolder... yeah!)

This is a subtle one and most of you might not catch it, but it drives me crazy! You clench your fists, but clinch a deal. To clench(a verb) means to grasp tightly. It can also be used as a noun when describing a medical condition in which a part of the body becomes tightened or as a type of knot. But a clinch as a noun is a scuffle in close quarters or an amorous embrace. As a verb it means to confirm, settle or conclude an arrangement, or to fasten.

So if you mixed them up you would be grabbing your deal tightly ( not concluding it) and you would be fastening your hands.... hmmm... nope, doesn't work. All because of one silly little letter difference!

As in bare naked, grizzly bear and the last name Bair. I love it when someone writes 'I want to bear my soul to him, but I don't know how.' Well, I could totally understand how that would be difficult! bare means to lay out, to expose, to present. Whereas Bear is a noun for a large mammal that tends to be incredibly violent! I had a friend in high school with the last name Bair and she was always frustrated by the variety of different spellings that would come about.

One you eat, one will probably eat you! A dessert is a usually sweet dish served at the end of a meal. A desert is a hot, arid land with very little water, vegetation or life.  (Also often frequented by small poisonous critter such as snakes, scorpions... you get the idea!)

The eave is a part of a roof. Eve is a time of night ( right as the sun is going down). If I said "Yester eave was dark and dingy. You would have to wonder who is Yester and why doesn't he clean them?

Faille is a type of slightly ribbed woven material.
A file has many meanings. It could be a steal object with edges used to produce a smooth surface ( such as a nail file, or for filing the bars of a prison.) It is also could refer to a collection of documents that are grouped together because of a common link ( such as computer files, lawyers files, library files) and last but not least, it could mean a single line ( everyone filed out of the room). Where as a phial is an Old-English version of vial.It is a small container used to hold a liquid.

Gamble/ Gambol
Big difference in such a small word! I could gamble my life away, but it would be more fun to gambol my life away! Gamble is to make a wager. (so if I gambled my life away, I would be making wagers that would endanger my life) Whereas gamboling means to leap about playfully. Often used to describe young animals. Yeah, I would much rather leap about playfully for the rest of my life!

Medal/ Meddle/ Metal/Mettle
You win a medal, you cause trouble when you meddle. Metal is a physical substance with generally shiny property that is often stronger than the other elements. Mettle is an insubstantial demonstration of a person's emotional strength. So if you said someone really showed their medal, it would confuse the reader. What did he win? If you wrote that the mettle was very hard... the insubstantial demonstration of resolve was hard? You bet!!

One is a physical object and the other is a shade! But, I read in a published book "she pailed at the sight of the wound." No, she  did not turn into a usually cylindrical bucket with a handle used for hauling things. I suppose if this were a fantasy, she might turn into a pail to catch the blood? Yeah... no. what the author meant was that she paled, as in her face became a lighter shade due to the blood running out of her face.  (Little random note, this book was not a self-published work. It had the privilege of agent and editors.I was surprised to see such a blatant error!)

Sale/ Sail
I honestly do not understand this one, but I see it so very often. It is simple. If you work as a merchant you will use the term sale any time someone buys something from you. If you work with boats you will use a sail to help gain momentum or you might sail out of port. Rarely should these two ever get mixed up! (Unless you were a merchant who had to sail to make your sales... yeah, because that is often the case!!) 

(Also, for the sake of my neurosis Sole/Soul, thanks to the ridiculous example!!)
Sorry, I recently read someone quoting Boondock Saints and had the prayer reading "And teaming with soles shall it ever be."

what they actually meant was "And teeming with souls."

because what they said was a number of persons forming on one side with the bottoms of shoes.( Can I just say "GO Football!!" Anyone?!?!?)

when the prayer actually means overflowing or swarming with insubstantial objects believed to be the spark of life. (Much more of a prayery-type thing to say, right?)

So, there are my top ten most annoying homophones (at least this week.) If homophones make you nervous and you are not certain which version to use, check out this great list of homophones! It'll be sure to keep you strait or drown you more! (Yes, I did that on purpose folks!!)

What are some of your most annoying homophone blunders? Share in the comments below!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Happy Banned Books Week

Well, originally I wanted last Monday's blog post to be about the fact that this week is Banned Book Week, but due to the internet being screwy and... other glitches, Friday's post got published Monday. So today we will be talking about Banned Book Week!

What is Banned Book Week? You may ask. It is a week sponsored by the American Library Association to bring attention to books that were banned or attempted to be banned in the past. It is designed to celebrate our freedom to read and write what we choose! For more information, check out their website!

In America, writers have this perception that we have the freedom to write whatever we want. It is, after all, in our constitution! However, there are groups who can and will try to ban material that they consider subversive, graphic and/ or in poor taste in an effort to "protect the people".

With situations like Harry Potter it is easy to go "What? Why would you ban such fantastic stories?" (For a detailed list of books that have been banned over the years, check out Controversial and Banned Books )

With Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, it becomes a little more clear why certain groups might want to ban certain books.

But when someone proposes that your children should be allowed to read Mein Kampf By Adolf Hitler or Women on Top by Nancy Friday... well, suddenly one can see how book banning comes about.

I think parents have the duty and responsibility to determine what their children read. I do not think educators have that right, I do not think that the government has that right. I do not even think that Religious organizations have that right. Of course all of them have the same right that we writers have, freedom of expression. They are more than welcome to express their opinion on any work out there! (As long as they actually READ IT first!!)

That being said, I do believe that it is important as writers that we take our job very seriously. We have a duty to write quality content that reflects our own truths. Those truths are our own and there are people who may not agree with them. We may get sand blasted for expressing our thoughts and stories, our truth. We have to respect other peoples' right to do the same!  But I actually covered a lot of my thoughts and feelings on Banning in another post Book Banning is At It Again so I won't beat that horse dead.

Now, what to do with the space left?

I know! Here are some samples of my children's book that will be coming out soon! It is a story dealing with entitlement and learning the joy of hard work and the pride one can gain from completing projects. (Which is exactly how I feel about finishing this book!!) Do you think it might get banned?

 Here is the front cover

And a sample from the middle of the book

And another sample!

Hope you enjoy!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... Yet!

Work bigger to smaller.

I start my editing on the principle of working through the big problems first, then each additional edit gets to focus on smaller and smaller issues. In my first read through I am looking at my content. Are there any holes in my story, am I telling when I should be showing? Are there any inconsistencies? Big stuff. Now if I come across small stuff as I go, of course I will fix it when I see it, but that is not my primary focus. I am buffing out my story during the first read-through.

The reality is that most audiences are forgiving. What I mean by this is that we will forgive bad acting in a B movie as long as the story is good. We will forgive bad cartoon illustrations as long as the content of the program is good and we will forgive grammar errors if the story is engrossing enough that we don't see them!

But no matter how great the actor is, we cannot forgive a bad story, no matter how good the illustrations, if the content sucks we just aren't there. Even if there is not a single grammatical or spelling error, we will not finish a book if the story doesn't grab us.

Don't believe me? Here are some examples: How many of you could not stand Castaway, even though Tom Hanks is a phenomenal actor? Yet Twilight is a raging success, despite wooden performances. South Park is horribly illustrated, but has been on air for almost fourteen years. Yet Animes are not as popular in the U.S. (despite their beautiful rendering) because most Americans do not understand the stories! Mark Twain made telling stories in tone popular, because he could not grasp the rules of grammar! Yet most people loathe reading Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter) because they cannot relate to the stories, even though his writing is grammatically superior to Twain.

So make sure you have the most intact story possible, before you start fixing all the little stuff. Next week we will focus on how to fix some of the big stuff! Are there any "big" issues you need help fixing in your own story? Tell us in the comments below, or feel free to e-mail me at and I'll be happy to offer assistance!

Any tips to other writers on how to fix the big stuff? Please, share in the comments below!! We are a community and it takes a village to make a good book!!

Until next time, keep writing!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Editing the Day Away

Editing is such an important step in the writing process. For hundreds of years authors have sought agents and publishers to publish their books because of their access to mass production. Those agents and publishers acted as a winnowing process, removing the wheat from the chafe. They and they alone decided what would sell, what was good, and what we needed. Then they polished those pretty stories, removing all (or most) error and making the best possible product to package.

In the last thirty years or so there has been a movement toward self-publishing. In the beginning self-publishing was messy, expensive to the writer, and so frowned upon in the industry that to self-publish was viewed as a career killer. But technology (I LOVE IT) has opened up new and amazing opportunities for all of us. I can now publish for free with print on demand and e-books. I can do a massive amount of marketing from my own home without spending more than it costs to pay the electric bill! If I want to do ground marketing, I can use the proceeds from my book to buy a handful of physical books to sell at speaking engagements!

It is an exciting change to be sure, but one that is fraught with peril. The peril of poor quality work being thrust upon unsuspecting readers. The peril of not being able to distinguish yourself from the crazy joe down the street who spent three nights clacking at the keys and can publish his book tomorrow and be just as much an author as you.

The danger of losing readers to the other forms of media because our quality has fallen so low. (Though after this summer, I am still convinced the movie industry is way ahead of us in that fall!)

What can we, as serious authors, do to prevent this? The first is to make sure that your story really is the best that it can be. Take the time to make sure that you are publishing a work that is quality work.  Note that I did not say a work you can be proud of, but a quality work. I can be proud of my son for his artwork from school that won first prize, but he is seven. It is not quality work.

(Hint, your mother is probably not the best person to tell you whether or not what you have done is quality work! We're moms and we're proud... not to mention biased!)

Once you have written your story it is time to edit. Once you've edited it, go on and edit it again. Honestly, my rule of thumb is to edit my work no less than four times. First read through is for content. Second is specifically for grammar. Third is for those niggly spelling errors that slip past Word (such as I typed is, but meant if.) Fourth is read aloud to catch anything else. If it feels good... and I mean really good, then I send it to a couple of friends for critiquing while I am scribbling out my next story. I do not look at it again until I have had two people send back their "corrections". Then I go through line by line evaluating the two friends suggestions with what I have and piece it all together in the best possible light. Then I read the final copy again... and again, if necessary.

Writing has always been a collaborative effort. In the past we have had to pay agents, editors and publishers to participate in that collaboration. But in this modern age, you can find writer friends from all over the world. Find a group you trust! Work together and help each other succeed. Do not view those other guys as your competitors. View them as your colleagues!

If we as author's band together we can make it through this crazy whirlwind of change and come out on top!

Writing is the easy part of what we do folks, we are getting into the hard stuff now! So, next post will be focusing on some of the details to watch out for when editing. Why? Because none of us are experts and we all need refreshers. Even me!

Until next time, keep writing!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Free Writing

As you are going along getting your story out there, you may find yourself hitting a road block. You will sit down to write and then no matter how hard you try, nothing comes to mind. You stare angrily at the page and it stares back. Nothing happens.... and you wait.

Don't wait! If nothing is coming to mind about your story, do a creative exercise to loosen up those creative muscles. Cut yourself free from the writer's block! For a wide range of creative exercise tips, check out my little book Creative Exercises to Inspire  available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

A quick and easy tip to dealing with a creative block is to throw on some tunes and just start writing whatever comes to mind. It does not have to be about your story. It can be about whatever is troubling you, or it can be nothing at all. just write the first words that come to mind and then keep writing.

Geoff Talbot has a great Seven Sentences post on free writing, The Fifth Blank Page It is literally seven sentences long, but gives you an idea of what to do!

After about ten minutes, this free writing exercise will loosen things up and then you can take a minute to re-read the last couple of paragraphs of what you are writing and get back on track with your story. And you thought you had to wait for inspiration! (Don't get me wrong, inspiration is great! Sometimes it just needs a gentle nudge!! Arm yourself with the right tools and you can give inspiration a nudge whenever you need it!)

What tools do you use to chase away writer's block and give inspiration a nudge? Share in the comments below.

Wednesday we will be focusing on editing your work.

Until next time, keep writing!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Twitter Tips

As we continue to build our platform, it is important to take a careful look at Twitter. In many ways, Twitter is a better platform resource than Facebook. Where Facebook limits your contacts to people who mutually friend one another, you can follow anyone on Twitter. In theory, this permits you a much larger number of followers. But how do you get followers on Twitter?

There are all sorts of aps on Twitter to help you get more followers. But I refuse to use them. It seems so disingenuous.  I have a small, but solid following on Twitter. I have achieved this through 1. following key players, 2. establishing relationships, and 3. talking with people, not at them! So let's break these three points down.

Following Key Players

When I first got on Twitter, I had no idea what I was doing. I needed to follow some people, so others would follow me. So, I looked up all sorts of famous people I knew and started following them. I quickly found myself following about 75 people and only had three followers. Famous people are not going to follow you back. It is just a fact. Don't overwhelm your home page with useless tweets from actors, musicians, comedians or sports people you really don't care about that much.

Take your time and do some research. Follow people that matter to your industry. I quickly followed Random House, Penguin, Avon Books and several other publishing agencies. They post blogs, business trends and hot new releases coming out. Then I started following certain writing agents.  Here's a fun tip when following people on twitter: Look at how often they post and what they post. I randomly followed one agent, because I had submitted my manuscript to her. After two months I un-followed because her random, obnoxious, irrelevant tweets were leaving a really bad taste in my mouth! Boy, was I glad she did not pick up my book!

Now, start looking for lesser known people who might tweet things that matter to you. (You can follow me at  HeidiAngell) Follow other authors in your field, bloggers who post book reviews, people who share similar interests.  For example, I often follow people who post inspiring quotes. I also follow people who philosophize! Foodies, people from Australia and health reviewers also catch my eye. I have recently picked up on techies, social marketing, graphic artists (check out Swampfox Media they are awesome!) and several other "non-writing" related topics! Simply because they are all topics that interested me!

Just because someone follows you, doesn't mean you have to follow them back. You would be surprised how many will unfollow after a couple of weeks. You can follow people who do not directly relate to your business, but who may have shared interests. Look at how often they post and what they post about. I avoid people who post fifty times a day, who post obnoxious things like "going to the potty now." or who just don't appeal to me. Be real on Twitter.

Establishing Relationships

This is tricky on Twitter. Whereas on Facebook you have the benefit of knowing people before you mutually follow, on Twitter it is harder to keep track of these "nameless" individuals. I follow 215 people on Twitter. Despite my careful culling, I get an average of 100 tweets an hour. I can't read all of those tweets every day! That is insane! But I scan. I make a concerted effort to respond to three different people's random tweets each day. It may be something as simple as answering a question. Sometimes it is a witty retort to their own statement.

I pick two blog posts each day that grab my attention. I take the time to read and comment on them. There are a few blogs that I have begun following regularly because their posts are frequently informative, but I do not count those in my "two" requirement. (We'll review them under blogs to follow in another post!)

In making a concerted effort to hit up different people each day, you are able to build your network and make personal connections without overtaxing your time.

Talk With People Not at Them

This is a continuation of the establishing relationships idea. Your on Twitter to promote a product, right? But filling peoples streams with "advertising" your products is talking at them. Instead talk with them. Post your work, but share other people's work as well. They will often share yours. (Make sure you are sharing quality work. If it strikes you, share it with your followers! Avoid the mindless follow me/ I'll follow you or share me/ I'll share you mentality, it will discredit you to your own followers!) Respond to personal tweets with honesty and a positive mindset. They will be more inclined to pay attention to you when you tweet. Tweet personal items that allow others to respond to you. When you post personal posts, keep a professional mindset. (No potty commentaries, my toe itches, etc... unless you are trying to be funny! See Adam Troudart, he cracks me up!)

You don't want to follow masses every day in hopes they will follow you back, as it will be hard to keep up with them. At the same time, you don't want to go weeks without adding some people to follow. In my experience less people tend to find you this way. My goal is to find three to five unique individuals to follow each week. This usually will cause me to pick up ten or so followers. When one of those I followed turns around and follows me back, it will frequently get one or two of their followers to check me out as well!

Twitter has such potential, but it is so easy to get sucked in and suddenly realize you wasted half the day. Maintaining balance is difficult. Build carefully my young padawans

And until next time, keep writing!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Keep on Writing

We have done all the prep work and now it is time to start writing! After all, this is what we want to do, isn't it?

There are many ways to write your story. You can write all those nifty scenes that have been rolling around in your head and then plug them all in with filler, or you can go the direct route and write from beginning to end. This is my preferred style.

However works best for you is fine. As long as you write! Don't get bogged down in planning your sentence structure, editing, looking up fancy new words, creating the "perfect" red herring. Now is just about getting the story down on paper. All that other stuff can be done after you get the story out there.

Work on your story a little bit each day. Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Just get the story out there and then you can go through and revise, edit, and toss out all the "junk". Although writing does happen in inspired moments, those are not the only moments you should be writing.

Someone said that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. (Okay, actually, I am pretty sure the quote was by Albert Einstein and wasn't about writing, but the message still remains true!) Force that story out. Nothing worth doing was ever easy. (From a woman who has had a child, believe me that is so true!!!)

Follow the paths that your story takes you, but be sure to keep an eye on your outline so that you don't end up on a tangent that takes you to Timbuktu. At this point, don't focus nearly as much on your writing, just focus on telling your story. It will make it easier to get the story out there. Then you can shine it, polish it and turn that turd into a shiny marble-looking turd. (I know it is gross but yes, this can actually be done. Saw it on Mythbusters.)

So until next we meet, keep writing!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

In the Beginning... You Must Have an End!

Or Planning Your Storyline! 

Remember when we talked about road maps? You have come up with all these great ideas for your story, lists miles long, and you are ready to sit down and start writing! But, before you start you need to have a clear plan for how the story is going to go.

You think you do have that plan. It is all in your head and you have come up with so many fantastic ideas that if you don't start writing, then your little brain is going to pop like a balloon. This last step is probably the most crucial step that you cannot leave out! It is kind of like trying to make a chocolate cake from a list of ingredients without actually having a recipe. (If you haven't tried it, please don't! It turns out all mushy and GROSS!!!)

There are many ways to plan out your storyline. You can do an outline, like you did for school papers. This is a very traditional method and is nice in the respect that you can have order and balance, add details as they come to you, and have a clear path from beginning to end. This used to be my favorite method for planning my stories. But if you are more of a big picture person, it is sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees in this style. (Or in my case, you get bogged down on the details and end up writing your whole book in outline format!)

You can also do a traditional timeline, like you saw in history class.

Beginning----character development---first problem---building tension----blah blah---- climax---- the end!

This allows you to look at the story in a sequential line that gives you the big picture. It does not really allow for a lot of detail (Not if you want it to fit in a reasonably-simple-to-read line.) You could do a combination of the two (which I played with for a time) and this allows you to see the forrest and plan for the trees. However, in recent years I have discovered a nifty way that allows for detail, flow, and being able to see the big picture.

All I needed was to buy a dry erase board! (Which have become ridiculously cheap and easy to purchase at Staples!)

And so what you end up with is something like this!

As you can see, I can follow the flow of the story with the curves to ensure a productive pace. The blue is the general outline of the story. Each blue line sets specific scenes I have already plotted in my head. It is laid out in a manner that will allow the story to flow and maintain a balanced pace. (I actually had three or four other side stories that didn't seem to fit, so I have not plugged them in. We will see if I can squeeze them in once I start writing.)

The red marks are commentary notes to myself outside of the story line. Which perspective to use when writing the story, cliches to avoid, points to reference research notes and any other little notes I need to consider as I write.  I will add more red notes as I go along in the story.

This format is a great way to put all of the information together in a quick and easy view. I will also add my character bios with pictures to the bottom portion (held in place with magnets) for easy access during my writing process.

There are probably a hundred different ways to plan out your storyline and you really need to find what works best for your creative process.

What method(s) do you use?

Feel free to share in the comments below!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Knowing your Characters

Sorry for the delay, folks. Been out sick. O.k., so I didn't look like the zombie apocalypse had started, but I sure felt like it!

We left off on the writing front discussing character names. Now we get to start writing! Remember those lists we created during our pre-writing phase? (Or brain storming bubbles, mind mapping, or whatever path works best for you!) The ideas about our character that we jotted down? Pull those out and start writing about your character. (Mind you, this is just about the character, not writing the story yet!). Write a life history, give details about his/her childhood. Create stories that explain why your character is the way he or she is and what past experiences guide his/her choices. Details matter!

Is your character a crotchety, old detective who drinks too much? Why is he that way? What happened in his life prior to the story starting that set his attitudes in place? The more details you can provide, the more real this character will become for you. The more real the character is to you, the more real he or she will be for your audience.

What does your character look like? If you are artistically inclined, draw out your character. I am woefully incapable when it comes to artwork. I often rely on actors, but I pick the actor I could see playing my character and get a picture of that actor to go with my bio of the character. Any unique qualities of the actor, I incorporate into my character and create back stories for how it happened.

I had a short story where my main character looked like Joaquin Phoenix. My character was a troubled youth with a penchant for mischief. I had a back story for that lovely scar on Joaquin's lip. My character was a thief and this behavior started early in life. He got the scar when, as a very young boy, he used a fishing line to pick the purses of ladies at market. One day the hook got snared and when he jerked it free to escape, the hook became embedded in his upper lip. In the scuffle to free himself as the townspeople pursued him, the line was snatched and the hook tore right through his lip.

I did mention this back story in my actual short story, but did not go into as much detail as it was a short story and not the main point of the plot. But it added to character development. Even if the story was not important to the details of the short I had written, knowing about that harrowing experience allowed me to have a depth of understanding for my character that I would not have otherwise had if I had not taken the time to create this back story. I could write a whole series on my mischievous youth! And I still might!

The more important the character, the more detail you need to go into when writing this bio. But you should do a bio for each character in your story. The more information you provide on even your static characters, the more real they will become. Some of the material will indeed make it into your story, but a lot of it will only be kept in your notes. That is okay. You never know if the story may turn into a series and that material will be useful in a later book one day.

You may feel that it is possible to skip this step. That you have it all in your head and that is enough. That is your choice. But I assure you that authors such as J.K Rowling didn't just wing it when writing Harry Potter. She knew every one of those characters inside and out before she ever started writing the story. Even though characters developed, they still remained true to themselves. Which is part of why the series was such a raging success. We didn't know in book one why Malfoy was such a twidget, we just knew that he was obnoxious and we didn't like him. But as you learn more about Malfoy through the series, it is possible to see how he turned out the way that he did and (at least in my case) pity him.

Take the time to plan. Add to your character bios as you write the story. Keep them living and breathing!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keep Facebooking!

A few weeks ago we talked about building your platform and I gave some very general tips on how to start building that platform. Today we are going to focus on Facebook and using it to your best abilities as a platform.

It is very easy to get sucked into Facebook. There are dozens of time wasters (farmville, who's your celebrity lover, etc.) and if you have a very large network just keeping up with all of your friends can be overwhelming. In the beginning I spent several hours a day... just on facebook. At the end of the day, I would be so frustrated because I felt like I had accomplished nothing with my writing.

So you decide to cut back and suddenly you find some of your Facebook friends getting very quiet. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that they may have un-friended you. It happens and that is ok. But you may want to look at your practices and find out why they un-friended you. Are you only posting work-related comments? Are you posting offensive items or getting into "drama". If so, stop immediately!

Remember, this is a professional page. If you want a private page where you can do that, go get that private page. At the same time, you do need to maintain a personal connection with your friends. Don't just post work-related items. Make comments when appropriate, but be sure that you keep in mind that the comments you make are visible to all (if you have an open page, which I recommended in the beginning). Engage without arguing!

Make sure that you engage with all of your friends. Even if you simply "like" something that they say. Facebook has a feature that will remove friends from your friends list if you do not keep up with them. Keep your image in mind when you do respond to comments.

Your posts should not just be promoting your book, blog, etc. Post a witty comment, post a favorite quote. Give them something that lets them know that you are human! Keep your image in mind as you plan your posts and make sure that your posts are properly written. They do reflect on you as a writer.

When you do post work-related items, ask people to share. You would be surprised how many will be willing to do so. When they do share your work, all of their friends will see it as well. This increases your viewership beyond your 200 (or whatever) friends.

Once a week take a few minutes to go through the friend finder and add a few friends. In the beginning you will only be adding people that you know in the "real world". But as you engage with others and respond to your friends posts, you can and will become friends with their friends. Once you have built a rapport with your friend's friends, they will be more inclined to accept your friend request. In the real world, I only have a handful of friends. 1/2 of my Facebook friends are old friends that I have reconnected with. About 1/3 are friends and family that I maintain contact with in the "real world" and the remaining are people that I have solely met through Facebook! Some of my "Facebook-only" friends are my best contributors for re-posting my work!

I love my Facebook people! They are probably the best in the world. Although I do use my Facebook page for promoting my work, I have enjoyed the sociability it gives me now that I have become a shut-in working from home! And even the ones you may not know in real life become a part of your real world connections!

This is my favorite of all my "platforms". It is probably the only one I would maintain if I did stop pursuing my dreams of writing. There are connections that I have made on my other platforms that I would pull over if I did give them up, but my Facebook friends are just that! They boost me up when I am feeling down. They re-share much more willingly and actually engage in what I do. I get more comments on my blog posts through Facebook than on the actual blog! And those comments keep me writing these posts, when the lack of comments on the blog gets me down!

Next post we will return to writing tips, so look forward to it!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Shakespeare was wrong, names are important. So when creating your characters it is important to give them names that suit their personality. Unless of course, you are trying to be ironic. Like naming a big, hulking, girl Grace. Either way, this is an important step to developing your character and should not be taken lightly.

I always have a hard time with character names. I want to name my characters something original and creative. I loathe generic names like Bob, Joe, Jeff, James and Tommy. But you cannot have all of your characters have super-original names. It is emotionally taxing as an author to find so many original and creative names. Keep in mind that strange names can also lead to confusion for your audience. For example, in the Harry Potter series I had Hermione pronounced in my head Her-meee-on. Boy, was I frustrated when she demonstrated the pronunciation in the book as Her-my-oh-neee!

Another example is my main character for All is Well. Her name is Clear Angell. I had to re-write her introduction because several of my testers were confused as to why I had capitalized clear. And I may have to change the last name because most people don't realize it is pronounced angel. Curses!!

Can you imagine how hard it was naming my children? That is how hard it should be for you to name your characters. Your characters are your creation and in a sense your children. You want them to have original names that will stick with the reader long after the book is over. (Laura Croft, anyone?)

How do you go about picking a name? You have your lists, right? Now, go bookmark one of those on-line baby name sites (my favorites are  Parents Connect and Babynames) and look through the names and their definitions. Find one you like that suits your character. If you already have a name picked out, check it in the registry. Sounds easy, right? Hahahahaha!!! I am working on a Zombie story and have changed my main character's name ten times. I can't get past the name part.

The name is probably the first introduction of your character and before you get a chance for the audience to get to know them, they will be automatically imbued with certain characteristics that your readers will associate with that name. Some of those you cannot predict, because they are based on personal experience. But some of them will be almost universal standards based on the meanings of the names.

You also need to pay attention to your setting when naming a character. For example, if one of the characters from Pride and Prejudice had been named Tiffany or Lana that would have been weird! It would have  caused a mental bump for the readers. They might not have realized why it was awkward or uncomfortable for them, but they would know that it  broke the spell that was being weaved by the author. When you look up the name on your baby name site, they will have an origin listing. The origins of a name will aid in your determination of whether it is appropriate for your character, setting and plot.

Character's names need to work together, defining their relationships with one another. For example, twins often have names that sound similar like Jen and Julie. To do this with two friends in your story may indicate a deeper bond than just friends.

Despite its lack of commonality in reality, we like couples names to flow together. Having two very incongruous names, like Toby and Graciella, for your main characters may be awkward if they are to have a romantic interest in one another. But having names that are too similar, like Jeff and Jen, may be banal. It is important to make sure that the names work together, like Romeo and Juliet! (But please do not decide to go with Rome and Julie, unless you are doing a modern re-take of Romeo and Juliet... even then... maybe not!)

Do not neglect this very important aspect of your writing. Make sure you get the right name for your character so that people will care to remember them! What are some great character names you have come up with? Worst character names ever? Share in the comments below!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are you Listing?

Lists. I love lists!!Shopping lists, daily chore lists, honey-do lists, pros and cons lists; I am a list person!

Listing in preparation for writing is a much more time-consuming process, but it allows for more detail and development. It is a great second step to your brain-storming (or a first step if you don't like brain-storming). It allows you to compare some of the points of development, by putting everything next to each other. It is also a lot easier to do on the computer, for you green writers!

How does listing work? Well, it is pretty straight forward. You pick a topic and write a list of things to go with that topic. For example:

Main Character
Mixed descent
Mid to late twenties
Stumbles into ER all shot up
Dies on the operating table
Comes back to life unexpectedly
Cannot remember anything
Little physical markers prevent her from being identified.
Plate in right ankle indicates high school age injury broken leg, dislocated ankle
Very intelligent
Good with languages
Heals quickly
Develops unique abilities: Speed, strength, agility
Likes exotic food
Prefers black and muted colors
Likes the cold
Has incredible dancing skills
Great rhythm
Exudes confidence, despite not knowing who she is.

This is a general character description. You would do this for all of your characters, even the most unimportant. The more detail you can provide, the easier it will be to see your characters and story as a real world situation. Know that half of the material you provide may never end up in your story, but that is ok. The important aspect is feeling that this world you are creating is real so that you can convey that reality to your readers. Remember that we said the same thing about all your research? Yeah, your research should also be taken and used to help make the lists. Lists are not limited to your character development. They should be written for all aspects of your story.

Here is a good setting list:

Setting (Different story list)
Aiken, S.C.
Main character attends South Aiken High School
Lives in Gatewood Apartments on the south side of Aiken
Hangs out at the local park, Odell Weeks
Small-town southern mentality affects the main character who is originally from the North
Major roads to know: Pinelog Rd, Whiskey Rd, Powder House rd.
Active in the Aiken Community Playhouse Youth wing at Odell Weeks park.

(OK, I sort of cheated and took a lot of this experience from my own history, without doing all of the research. But you better believe that when I decided to write a story where my character travels through Chicago and Peoria, IL, Google street view was my best friend!!)

Now, get listing!

How do you feel about lists? Let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Got a Plan?

We have our idea, we have done our homework and now it is time to write, right? Not quite. I can hear the groans. How can you be a writer, when you don't write! But there is a very fine difference between being an author and being a writer. And a large amount of that difference is in delivery.

This is a lesson that it has taken me a long time to learn. I understood the need for a diagram, brainstorming chart or outline when it came to writing papers in school. When it came to writing books, I always wanted to go where the story took me. Which is why I could never finish a story. Now I embrace having a map!

Readers don't want a wondering book. Readers want a story. In order for you to create a compelling story you have to know where it is going. Remember all that symbolism you learned about in English oh so many years ago? What? You thought that was just an accident that some people got that particular message out of a story after the writer wrote it? O.k., in some cases it probably was. But most great writers already know the beginning, middle and end of a story before they write it. That is how we get such great elements as foreshadowing, irony and red herrings. Writers who do not take the time to plan end up with plot holes that you could drive a mac truck through. Or worse, feeling cliche.

 There are so many different ways to plot out your story and every new writer must experiment with the different techniques. Eventually you will find which one, or which combination, works for you.

The most common form of pre-planning is called brainstorming. We have all done it since probably third grade. Remember all the little bubbles on the paper and you make the bubbles connect? Yeah, that is brain storming. Some call it mind mapping, others call it writing webs. But whatever you want to call it, the principle is the same. You start with your main idea and then you draw other ideas off the main idea. Then you connect the ideas with lines. It ends up looking something like this:

I have to be honest with you, I HATE brainstorming on paper. It drives me absolutely nuts!! I am a bit of a control freak and I tend to be a linear thinker. There is no control in this style of planning, which is what a lot of writers love about the process. You are just throwing ideas out onto paper to see where it leads you. I have a lot of very good friends who swear by this technique. I do something very similar in my own little head, but never have the chaos on paper.

You may find that this is the best way for you to do it as well. Or you may find that you do not like this step at all and would rather choose a different format. (We'll discuss those in other posts.) But make sure you try it often before you give it up. It is one of those techniques that takes a while to get the hang of before you can really determine whether or not it is useful for your own creative process. The idea of a brainstorming chart is that it is for you and you alone. It is not a way to present your ideas to others. If you can make sense of it, that is all that matters.

As I said, I tend to do this process in my head (I like to call it "fleshing out" my idea.) But in my head, I am basically doing the same thing, I just don't have to see the mess I make as it never ends up on paper! The more complex and detailed you can make your brainstorm, the more it will aid you in getting your book to paper. Here is a mind map that I could do for one of the stories I am currently working on.

Yup, see why mine never make it to paper?!?!?

What are your thoughts on mind mapping? What other pre-planning techniques work for you? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Is there a type of pre-planning technique that you have heard of, but don't really know how to implement? Let me know and I can add that to our topics to cover at this stage!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Research: Do Your Homework!

We live in a miraculous and amazing world where knowledge is at your fingertips day and night. Where the only thing keeping anyone from learning anything is their own willingness (or lack there of) to learn. With the increase of public education, the availability of libraries and the birth of the internet;  we have the potential to be as intelligent and well-read as we choose. At the same time, this adds an extra burden to creative types. Just as we are no longer restricted to writing based on our own limited experience, our audience is no longer passive and learning only through us. So, when you venture into a novel, you must do research.

I hear the groans already. No one really likes research. (Despite what those non-creatives think as they watch us reading or writing all the time!) And there are plenty of writers who don't do research. But if you want to have quality work that people will love, you need to do research. And don't think that because you have watched CSI since its inception that you can write a crime thriller novel and be good to go. You can certainly use some of the information you have gleaned from the episodes, but make sure you double-check your information with the vast resources at your fingertips. (You can find anything on the internet! It is a little terrifying!)

Now some of you are thinking 'I know! If I write Science Fiction or Fantasy, I can get out of research. After all, they are based on worlds that do not or may never exist.' And if you are thinking that, you should be slapped!

O.k. maybe that was a bit extreme, but I have been an avid Science Fiction and Fantasy reader for a very long time and I don't think I am brave or ambitious enough to write either. (Yet, but I do have a couple of story lines going!) Why? Because we geeks of those genres are even more discerning and... particular... than the average reader. Don't believe me? Check out the thousands of forums devoted to picking to pieces any descent book in either of those genres. We geeks are neurotic.

If you think you want to write Sci-Fi, I suggest that you begin your research as so: take an astronomy class. If you don't know what the Van Allen Belts are, take another one! Make sure you watch every episode of Star Trek written by Gene Roddenberry. The others pretty much leaned on his own genius and research and didn't add much new to the knowledge. (Which is why I stopped watching.) Watch Dr. Who. Then read every  book ever written by Orson  Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, Jules Verne and at least three other famous science fiction authors. Then read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. And for good measure, check out Through the Wormhole, an interesting TV series based on current science posit. Now see where your plot fits in with all those conflicting theories! Good luck! (And yes, I am currently working through that research list in preparation for my own Science Fiction book...)

As for Fantasy; the world is fiction, but the fans are rigid! You cannot go creating beings willy nilly and expect people to embrace them. You need to be so immersed in the culture as to be able to create a very real-life story while working within the established expectations. For example, if you were to describe an Elf as under four feet with sharp features and pointed ears, reminiscent of Santa's Elves, you might be shot. (That would be a Warrow or a Gelfling people, everyone knows Elves are taller than humans!). On top of that, the readers of such work expect much higher prose than your typical crime thriller.

Don't think you are getting out of research going the paranormal route either. After all, try creating something original within the realms of the past lore. The biggest kickback to the Twilight series was that Vampires sparkled! And Ms. Myers did her research. Her choice of elements to change was... interesting, but she made at least a halfway decent effort to conform her own vampire world with an explanation for the adaptation from societies expectations of Vampires. (Yes, it is there in the first book. Remember Bella looking things up on the internet?!?!? Yup. Research!)

So stop trying to get out of the research and just get to it already! Trust me, there is a lot to do! Make sure you save all of your research so you can refer back to it as often as needed. Then start planning your story. But that is a topic for another post!

Are there any major research snafus in writing  that you would like to discuss? Or perhaps an author that you find particularly authentic because of their excellent research?  Tell us about them in the comments below!!

Don't forget to follow me on the right if you like what you see!

Friday, August 19, 2011

It Starts With an Idea

Ideas are everywhere around us, all day long. Everyone has ideas. But not all ideas are created equal. A lot of people's ideas run the gamut of creating a shopping list, planning the most effective route to get from point A to Point B, how to impress your boss for a promotion. There are ideas such as how to get that guy/girl to notice you. My favorite is how to bribe your children into doing their homework without them realizing there is a bribe involved here. Yup....

Some ideas strike you in odd places, at odd moments. Like when you are trying to get your children to behave in the supermarket and another kid four aisles over comes careening through. You have this sadistic image of that child getting snatched up and eaten by a zombie/ werewolf/ other monster of your choice so you can point to the incident as an example of why your children should behave! Or while you are waiting in the doctor's office and overhear a bit of a conversation about another patient's illness and plot a story featuring an outbreak of some sort of horrible disease. (I know, a bit cliche!) When you are standing in the walker's line at school and hear one of the other mother's talking about how she is going to leave her husband as soon as she graduates with such and such degree and he is never gonna see it coming. Given the horrible nature of her glee, you feel the need to plan a twisted moral story in which she dies horrifically three days before completion and as her husband is going through her things he learns the awful truth of their marriage!Yeah... I am a very dark and twisted person. Who knew? But here is a good idea!

As you are doing laundry you go to add more socks to the sock basket and find yourself wondering if socks are like dust bunnies and reproduce at an alarming and unexpected rate. All those socks without pairs are not from ones who have been lost, but ones who have been created through weird sock dalliances under the bed. Hmmm....

Yes, even in the midst of life, we have creative ideas. The problem is that when you are at the doctor's office, strolling (or dragging children) through the supermarket, waiting in line and these creative fits of genius (or morbidity) seize you, what do you do? You chuckle (at least I do), and plan on saving that great idea to jot down later. But by the time you make it back to your creative space (my desk in my case) the idea has been lost with the millions of others over a life time. (For you young aspiring authors, this gets worse as you get older, I promise!!) You console yourself with the thought that it must not have been that good anyway, otherwise you would have remembered it. But what could that story have developed into? Now you will never know.

Unless, of course, you keep an idea journal!

For those of you who have already read my little e-book Creative Exercises to Inspire, you know all about this. Ha! That is what you thought! I'm giving you a bit more information this time around. Idea journals are exactly that. Ever since the fifth or sixth grade I have kept an idea journal. And currently I have an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves devoted to the durn things. I have two poetry journals, a dozen notebooks with creative short stories and snippits of ideas and almost every book I have written (or started to write.) I have been oh-so-slowly converting it over to the digital age. I even still have my first idea journal. (It is a dark purple Fat Little Fashion notebook!)

I also have three other idea journals. I have my blog idea journal on my computer, my creative idea journal on my computer and a mini notebook that I carry in my bag with me everywhere I go. This way I can catch those niggling little snippets and bring them back to my computer. (See that Mead Notebook up there? Yeah, that is EXACTLY the one I have!!)

So get out there and start keeping an idea journal. (Make sure you back it up! Would be horrible to start it and then lose it because your computer ends up with a virus!)  Write those ideas down. Whether they seem like good ideas, or corny, stupid ideas. (Like the sock story. Seems pretty stupid, but it could turn into something really interesting.) Some of your ideas in your journal will languish there forever. That is o.k. Don't get rid of them because one day you look at them and decide they are kind of stupid. You never know what other creative ideas they may spur on another day!

The book I am working on publishing actually came from a very lame idea from my first idea journal. It was basically NYPD Blue, except at that age I had never seen it. When I did see NYPD Blue I thought about throwing it away. After all, what good was an idea that had already been done? But it was so messy to tear the page out. So I left it.

Six years ago, I was flipping through my idea book, saw that one little silly story outline and because of outside influences thought 'But what if....' and now I am working on the sequel to that 'what if' story.  Once you get the idea you are most ready to run with we will begin our research! (Spoiler Alert: that is next Monday's topic!)  And while you focus on that one idea, any stray ideas that come along can get shoved in the idea journal until you can give them more attention.

What are some of your more off-the-wall ideas? How do you keep your idea journal? Feel free to share in the comments below!

And a bit of exciting news! My e-book is now officially available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. You can get a free copy here as long as your name comes up on the right as a follower. If you send me an e-mail to I will send you a copy in PDF format! Please feel free to share with your friends so we can keep the excitement going!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Five Steps to Building Your Platform

So, you have decided that you want, no need, to be a writer. You may think that the first step is to sit down and write a book, right?  Well, that seems a logical choice, but the first step is to start building your platform. In the marketing world, they call this branding. But unless you are a marketing major, this may seem very overwhelming and you may not know where to begin.

You may even ask yourself WHY you  need to build a platform. That's OK, I've got the answer for you. In this modern day and age there are so many books being published through so many different sources that you have to compete. Even if you are lucky enough to have your first book picked up by a major publisher, like Random House, who will provide marketing for your book; anything you can add to that marketing will only help you reach more viewers. And, demonstrating to an agent and/or publisher that you have a platform may get you a contract over another writer whose work is just as good (or possibly better) but who does not have a platform. 

Here are five free and easy steps to begin building your platform. Start now, because it takes time.

1. Start Making Contacts

This is easy, if you think about it. You buy books in a store? Take time to get to know the clerks. You don't have to tell them you are an aspiring writer now. But if you take time to build that relationship now, when you do get your book published you will already know who to talk to!
Get in a writers group. Writers are extremely supportive! When your book does come out, if you have built up a camaraderie with these people, they will be excited for you and will want to help spread the word about their writer friend who is making it! They may have also helped you write this book (Through editing, suggestive criticism, etc.). Your success becomes their success and they will expect the same help when it is their turn!

If you go to school, get in with the writing department. You can do a signing with them when the book comes out. There are so many more connections that you can make. Look at your life and your habits, find people you can connect with and start building those relationships now.

Volunteer in your community to help others learn your craft. Whether it is at an elder care facility, your local boys and girls club or another organization. Sharing what you know and love will help inspire others. They become invested in you because you invested in them. Reciprocation is the word people!

2. Start a Facebook Page

Most of you probably already have one, but this is more than just a facebook page. This page should just be about you as a writer. You need to maintain a certain level of professionalism on your page. No posting drunken pictures, embarrassing picture, or photos from when you were a goofy kid! You need to be involved and engaging, but you probably don't want to be posting about your personal dilemmas, using abusive or foul language, or posting controversial materials that may turn people off of your brand. You need to build your friend's list as much as you can. When you do make it; these people will know you, they will be invested in you and will probably buy your book!

3. Twitter

This was the hardest one for me. I had this mental image about Twitter. I figured it was a bunch of teenagers tweeting stupid crap like "I just got in the shower, think of me!" and... I'll be honest, some of it is! You need to treat your twitter like your facebook page. Follow people who interest you and who might be related to the biz. Don't just follow everyone who follows you, because a lot of them are spammers. Be selective.Post thought-provoking insights, inspirational quotes, your experiences, and links to other writers work (or your own). It takes time to build up a good, legitimate following on twitter, but in the end it is worth it. These are more people that you can market to.

4. Get Involved

Writers often have this image of sitting alone in a coffee shop writing a book, or hiding in a basement slamming out thousands of pages a day. But, there are so many great communities out there for writers and you need to get involved. This will teach you about your craft, the movements in the industry, give you a great support group and in the end most writers are readers so it is another great place to market your book! Some great sites that I am active in are Good Reads, Association of Author's Representatives, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Absolute Write Water Cooler, and many blogs written by agents, authors, publishers and other professionals in the business. The important aspect of being involved is to comment at these sites. Get to know the communities. When your book does come out, you may be able to advertise with them and in the case of the bloggers get them to interview you, review your book or otherwise mention you or your work! Plus, people begin to become familiar with your name and your comments, your writing style. When you get involved make sure that you are presenting a positive image that will help you market. Every post you make will reflect back on you!

5. Start a Blog

'What? You want me to directly compete against you?' You may be thinking. No, not really. Although competition is healthy. You don't have to write a Writers Tip blog, particularly if you are new in the industry and not experienced with writing. You can start a blog on pretty much any topic. You can do a book review blog like my Friend Linda with Books For Me. If your interests are in Science and you are a science fiction writer, start a blog on Science and the exciting new breakthroughs being made each day. If you like to travel, or dream of traveling, start a travel blog. If you like Anime, start an anime blog. If you are into paranormal stuff, start a blog on paranormal sitings and your theory on them. It is best to keep it close to your publishing interests, as this is another source to market your book when it comes out! For example, if you write historical romances, you probably wouldn't do well to start a true crime blog. Not a big cross-section of people read historical romances and are interested in the Serial Killers of the Century! But Clive Cussler would do o.k. if he started a blog on Environmental Science or Oceanography. Though his books are adventure books, they almost all happen at sea.

There are many other options for building your platform and all of them work. We will review this often, because your platform should always be under construction. Each of these suggestions can and will keep you busy. At the beginning you may not be able to handle more than a few. But the bigger your platform the more hands you can get your book into and that is what writing is about. We want to share our craft. Start building so that when it is time, you can start sharing!

Do you have any tips on building your platform? Please feel free to share them in the comments! Questions? Ask away, we will do all we can to help!