Friday, May 30, 2008


You have absolutely GOTTA check this out . . . William Joseph. If he wasn't young enough to be my son . . . sheesh . . . grandson??? . . . I would be a groupie in the WORST way.

If you can't get to the emotion and passion of the first song, forget it. The second song (and he doesn't just give you snippets . . . you get the entire song) is what I will play when I write a climactic scene.

I had to order the CD.

What do you think???

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Novel Logs

I've been reading about keeping a novel log. It doesn't require anything more than a notebook and a pen. Oh, and that commitment thing.

It's kind of like a diary of your book, starting with your characters and setting. Plot points and other notations. Then you decide how many words you're going to write each day for two weeks. Be realistic. Be specific. What scene will you write that day? What are the key elements? Date your daily entries so you can easily find your newest thoughts and progress made.

When you start the detailed character part of your novel log, use words to describe them. Is there another fictional character they're like? Are they a combination of real people you know?

I already keep a list of my scenes. It's helpful to know which one I have to tweak because I've changed something somewhere else. Or a read-through has pointed up a loose thread or weak plot line. A type of scene list would be a wonderful addition to your novel log from the very beginning.

A quick reference area for research sources would be handy. Anything else?

All in one little notebook.

But then there's that commitment thig. I've been working hard trying to keep one of those 10-year journals. This is my first year and I already missed quite a few days after my mom died.

I want to try this novel log thing, but will I? It feels a little late for the one I'm working on now, but . . .

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Convenient, isn't it?

Have you ever enjoyed a mystery or suspense novel for the most part, but in the end were a bit ticked off because the author never explained how the main character got the big idea as to how to solve the case?

After reading several glowing comments for a particular author, I decided I'd head to the library and see what all the fuss was about. They didn't have the first book in his series, so I had to start with the second.

I enjoyed his style, the story and characters were interesting, but there were two issues that left me unsatisfied when I finished. I even went back to re-read and make sure I hadn't missed something.

The first didn't impact the plot in the least, it just took me out of the story for a bit. I suspect something else had been changed at one point and the single little statement that remained was more of an editorial issue.

But the second? What in the world gave the protagonist the idea to head back to this group of cabins and their occupants? He'd already been there. Am I that stupid?

I'm willing to give this guy one more chance, and would be more than happy to write off the convenient plotting to this just being his second book—and an editor who wasn't paying attention.

Have you ever quit reading an otherwise good author because they were lazy?

It's all better with friends.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Good is in the Detail

Generalities are scene killers.

Some mountains were ahead of them.

Whoa. Stop. This is where the novelist can combine chosen facts with the five senses. You don't need to hit your reader over the head with information, but selective details will help put them in the scene.

What do you see in this picture? What do you smell? How hard would it be to find out the name of a couple of those wild flowers? What's the name of the mountain range? From where, geographically are you standing? Can you hear the water falling ahead? Does any of the mist hit your face?

Which character is in this scene? Why? Are they wearing hiking boots (don't be afraid to name a brand) or are they in sandals with dirt and rocks making it painful to walk?

If your scene is important enough to be included in your story, it's important enough for a little detail. But make the detail, the paragraph, and the scene have consequence. Make something happen. Link the scene to the plot to the motivation to the character.

Have you ever skimmed paragraphs? I have. I think one reason is because I can't see anything in them that matters. Not enough detail gives me the impression the words and therefore the scene, aren't important. Too much detail that goes on and on, and I wonder if it's really necessary for me to read it all.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Do You Do When the Well Runs Dry?

One of the most prolific writers I know has admitted she's not written anything new lately.

Other than hiding out in the throne room until this spell passes (sorry), what's a writer to do?

If you're not under contract, give yourself permission to Not Write. Let it go. This idea rides gunshot to that old theory about women who are having a tough time getting pregnant. Once that woman lets go and decides to adopt, well . . . you've heard it before. The important thing is not to beat yourself up. Go to a movie instead.

Having said that, here's what happens to me if I'm away from writing too long. Fear seeps in and floods my being. Confidence is eroded and I can't imagine ever accomplishing a thing. Sound familiar? Be gentle with yourself, but don't stay away too long. Nudge yourself—with tenderness—to the place where bichoking is all you want to do.

Some Nudges:

When I read about the craft of writing I get itchy to write. That's often enough to stir up something in my head.

Take an existing or new character and write in first person. A character study. I like to observe someone in real life and make up their story.

Write a poem. Effortless, flowing, fabulous writing is grounded in poetry.

Write about not writing.

Create an amazing setting for the type of story you want to write. Urban? Rural? A high rise or isolated cabin?

Take your laptop, or your notepad and pen, to the library. Breathe in all of those words and ideas that float free in the air. Or hustle your bustle to some other location that works for you.

Write a letter to your great-great-great-great grandchild. What do you want them to know about you and your life?

I'd love to hear some other ideas for dealing with this malady.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hang 'em High

The term "suspense" comes from the Latin word, suspendere, which means "to hang." (Yes, that's an elephant up a tree. Not exactly "hanging", but I do sense a certain amount of suspense, don't you?)

Readers of suspense enjoy the feeling of anxiety and apprehension they experience from the genre. How do they get there? Uncertainty.

The worst thing you can do as a suspense novelist is to bore your reader. Heck, the worst thing you can do as any kind of novelist is to bore your reader. And there are so many ways in which to bore . . .

Some ideas to keep your readers hanging:

Delete areas where you are supplying too much information. This often comes disguised as the internal thoughts of your POV character. Give your readers the opportunity to wonder and worry.

Foreshadowing is a wonderful tool, but remember it's a shadow and not a detailed picture. Don't be obvious.

Create characters your reader will care about. Then threaten them with something. It can be physical, psychological or emotional. Oh heck, why not all three?

Give your protagonist intense motivation. Connect to their basic human needs and understand what drives them. Your protagonist should be strong, not wussy. Their desire should be powerful, overwhelming, and completely believable.

Repeat the above for your antagonist. The more chance you give your villain to win, the more chance you have to build suspense.

Keep raising the stakes. Don't let up. Remember that elephant up a tree? Imagine a sleeping baby lying under the tree. And then, a poacher who sees some easy prey in an unlikely spot. And then . . . you get the drift. Never make things easy. (For more, see my post on the science of scenes.)

Give the reader more information than you give your hero. This is done by using multiple points of view. Your reader will have the sublime pleasure of worrying about things even more.

Build the momentum by winding up the ticking clock. Urgency fuels suspense. Make sure your reader understands the race and everything that's at stake.

Did you hear that limb crack?

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Science of Scenes

Science? Blick. What we create is art, right?

Well, yeah. Sorta.

But just like the formulas we learned in our science classes, there are formulas that work like magic in writing.

If you feel like your scenes are coming off like trying to ride a bike with square wheels, consider trying a proven technique that will round out those straight edges and give your writing momentum. Even if you don't feel you have a problem, there's a good chance your scenes don't all have the health they could. Pull on a white lab coat for a few minutes, and let's see if we can run a few diagnostic tests.

All of the ideas presented here are rooted in Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. If you don't have this book in your craft library, you'll want to remedy that situation pronto. Another valuable online resource is Randy Ingermanson's site. He's got lessons for writers up the wazoo.

What are the books you've enjoyed the most? (For additional thoughts, see an earlier post based on Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.)

I love books that put me in the action. Whether it's falling in love, or ferreting out the murderer, or chasing down terrorists, or finding the magic potion to save the realm, I want to experience the emotions. I want to Be There.

The most proven authors put me there by putting on their lab coats and taking care of business. Artfully.

Scenes are either the originating scene, or they are a sequel (also a scene, but for the sake of diagnostics, we call it something else. A lot like stuff in medicine). An instigating scene, if you will, and then the aftermath sequel.

Instigating scenes have three distinct parts:

Goal: Just like in real life, your POV character's goal must be specific. She's after something and everyone knows exactly what it is. She may be after something good or something bad—doesn't matter. What matters is her goal is clearly understood by the reader.

Conflict: Life for fictional characters is never easy. That's why we don't get bored. Give them obstacles that get in the way of them achieving their goal. Your readers will love it.

Disaster: In real life you would never do this, but in fiction you must. Make something awful happen to your POV character. Never, never be nice. Give your reader a reason to turn the page.

Aftermath sequels conveniently have three distinct parts:

Reaction: Your POV character just went through a disaster. She's bound to have some kind of reaction to that, right? Pour the emotions on. She's reeling. She's hurting. The trick here is to use strong verbs (well, you should ALWAYS use strong verbs) but don't wallow. No one likes to hang out with wallowers, and that includes readers. She needs to reflect and get a grip. But she runs into a problem . . .

Dilemma: She is in a dilemma. There is no clear answer to her disaster. The choices are awful. Let her chew on her worry for a bit. Let your reader worry with her. It's all part of the emotional roller coaster. Which is what your reader's love.

Decision: You want a strong POV character, right? Strong people make decisions. Let her make a good decision. One that makes sense to your readers, as perilous as it may be (and it should be perilous), but one she could pull off . . . maybe.

Do you get the page-turning thing here?

And now, your POV character has a new goal. Amazing, huh?

Since we are responsible and thorough, like our favorite medical counterparts, we have a few more details to check—those lovely "Motivation-Reaction Units." Without MRUs, your lovely scene could end up in ICU. (sorry)

Here's how MRUs are supposed to work in a healthy scene:

The motivation is external. What does your POV character see? What does EVERYONE see? It's objective. Everyone sees the same thing. There is nothing internal going on when you create the motivation.

Example: The shadow split and a gun barrel glinted under the streetlight.

Clear. Simple. On-screen.

The reaction is internal. How does your POV character experience what just happened—emotionally? This is completely subjective . . . within the mind of your POV character. Here's your opportunity to bring your reader into the skin of your character. Awesome.

There is a timing thing to consider with reactions. A motivation happens. It's there. It's immediate. A reaction takes time to develop. And it ALWAYS develops in this order:

With a reaction, there's an immediate feeling. How does your POV character feel when she sees the shadow split?

Second, there's a reflex. What is the instinctive spin-off? This takes a split-second longer than that first feeling.

And third comes some kind of believable action and speech. Usually in that order.

Motivations and reactions are always separate paragraphs. This keeps things clear.

Here's the deal: keep the pattern going. A motivation. Then reaction. Another motivation and its reaction. When you're done, so is either your instigating scene or your aftermath sequel.

Every scene and every sequel is nothing but a series of well-connected MRUs. If you've written something that isn't either a motivation or a reaction, introduce it to the Delete key. Be hard. Be ruthless. Be a good practioner of your craft.

One more thing about scenes . . . come in late and leave early.

And one more thing about our art. Lay the diagnosis aside. Turn the internal editor off. Write with abandon. Feel the wind beneath your wings. Soar. Dive. Slice the air and ride the currents. When you're finished, let it rest.

Then put on your lab coat.

It's all better with friends.