Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is There A Wrong Way To Begin Your Novel?

Writing is work.  Hard work.  This is a bitter, hard fact that cold-cocked me straight in the face within months after I finished my first novel.  Heck, writing the novel was easier than everything else that came and is still coming along with it.  Along with writing comes the usual rules of grammar, punctuation, plot and character development.  But, what many writers don't consider--at least I didn't--is whether there is a right way or a wrong way to begin their novel.  Can the beginning of your novel kill your chances of landing an agent and actually turn your readers away from your book?  The answer, surprisingly, is a whopping yes. While trolling the Internet, I came across several posts on various sites about cliched and generally frowned upon ways to begin  novels.  I've incorporated the nine most popular (or least popular, depending on your point of view) worst ways a writer can begin their novels--along with, of course, my views on said ways.

1.  Today in Michigan, we'll have snow this morning with hurricane Fran arriving by noon, but then we should clear out by 2 o'clock with sunny skies and temperatures approaching 80 degrees--Seriously, only people who live in Michigan are going to get that one.  The weather:  It's usually a pretty boring topic in real life; the same is true in the imaginary one as well. Actually, I only break out talk of cumulonimbus clouds when there is absolutely NOTHING else to talk about.  If you find yourself already coming to that point on your first page (and your book isn't a tribute to The Weather Channel), then you should probably sit back, have  a drink and go back to the drawing board before you proceed further.

2.  "It was a dark and stormy night"/"Once upon a time, I used this book to keep my table level..."-The cliched beginning is a surefire way to completely turn your reader away before you've had the chance to turn them on...figuratively, of course. 

3.  Prologue or NoLogue?-Many, many sources tell writers not to include Prologues in their novels.  Many agents, for example, despise the Prologue and don't care to even see them with your manuscript submissions.  I, on the other hand, ADORE Prologues...if they're executed correctly (whoo hoo blog topic).  However, if your Prologue begins with Uncle Herman playing a rousing game of Solitaire and ends with Uncle Herman sitting on the john with a copy of Field & Stream clutched between his fists, then you may want to reconsider the necessity for you Prologue.  

The purpose of a great Prologue is to intrigue the reader, giving them a taste of what's to come and leaving them salivating for more.  The Prologue should start at an action sequence or during a scene that will spark enough of a thirst within the reader they'll devour each and every page to quench it. 

In a nutshell-Prologues:  It's your story and you should include one if you want to.

4.  It was only just a dream-I have to agree with this one.  No one really cares about the dreams of someone else--especially the dreams of a fictional character that we have yet to get to know. Unless the dream has an absolutely pivotal role in the plot (think Inception), then its incorporation (if there even needs to be one) should be done later on in the book.

5.  Lengthy, Life-stealing, Asinine Adjectives-I've covered the unfortunate abuse of adjectives in numerous blogs and won't continue to rehash the issue here, but it was one of the no-no's mentioned in repeated articles, so it's earned its place here as well.  Descriptions are great, you just need to ease your reader into them gently rather than outright force them to jump into the deep end of the description pool to drown in the depths of your thoughts.

6.  Funerals=The Death of a Novel-This was one that shocked me as I didn't think too many novels began this way.  However, Jane Friedman from Writer's Digest has written in past blogs that agents are inundated with novels beginning in the middle of a funeral.  This makes me glad I saved my funerals for later...

7.  No Introductions Please-"Hi, my name is Sam."  "Hello Sam, I'm Carl."  "Good afternoon Carl, my name is Sally."----This is the point where I shut the book never to make any one's acquaintance ever again.  There has only been one instance where I actually read a book that has made an introduction work in the first two sentences without it sounding hokey and that was The Lovely Bones: "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie.  I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."  Okay Susie Salmon, you have my attention.

8.  TMI Alert-Have you ever found yourself trapped in a conversation with someone that you couldn't extricate yourself from?  You know, the kind of conversation where you don't want to be rude but it wouldn't have broken your heart if you and said jabber-jaws would have just exchanged a quick greeting in the hallway instead of engaging in conversation.  Instead, they're now holding you their verbal hostage, accosting you with each word while you nervously scan your surroundings for an "Exit" sign.  If you begin a novel with entirely too much information overloading your reader, they can and most likely will make a hasty retreat out that Exit.

9.  Action Now, Information Later-If your novel features a boatload of action, don't start out with a boatload of backstory. The link I've provided below to an article written by Jennifer Roach of gives the perfect example of a fictional book about a woman getting married then making a mess of the marriage.  A book like this should begin in the middle of the wedding and not a week or two before the wedding as that period of time is entirely irrelevant to the plot itself.  Starting out with an action sequence hooks the reader.  Once you've gotten them hooked, then bring on the backstory.  Just keep it as brief as possible.

At the end of the day, your novel is just that:  your novel.  There are exceptions to every rule and rules are either broken or highly modified every day in the literary world. Although it always pays to be open to suggestions,  don't allow the opinions or rules of bloggers, publishers, or agents prevent you from writing what's in your heart or what you feel makes your story flow the best.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reclaiming Your Childhood Through Books

Childhood:  we all had one.  Whether yours was so enjoyable that you clung to it for dear life, kicking and screaming your way into adulthood, or so traumatic that you prayed to the God's of Puberty for a swift transition; it's mark was indelible.  For writers, our childhoods were not only defined by sleepovers, skating rinks, summer vacations, school functions, bicycles and video games, but by the books we read as well.  It's an art form, the way children's books are written.  Like their intended readers, they aren't presumptuous with their language carrying a simplistic, innocent beauty.

Often times, when I'm writing, I think of those books that inspired me in my youth.  Such books heightened my love of reading and made me dream of one day being able to transport readers to other worlds too.  Now that I'm slowly walking down the path toward publication, I find myself (when I'm stuck on a plot, a character, or anything I'm making entirely too complicated) reflecting on those books and their brilliantly efficient, unassuming dialects.  After all, as Dr. Koichi Kawana (designer of the botanical gardens) once said: "Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art."

With that said, and keeping with the theme of today's blog, here are some of those childhood books of mine that I still recall fondly today (sarcasm aside):

Where The Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls): Before writing this blog, I retrieved this book from my bookshelf and noticed that it's only 248 pages long which shocked me to no end as my fifth grade self would have proclaimed it to be nothing short of 800 pages.  I'm not saying that's a testament to how long it felt to me while reading it, rather the amount of value that was actually contained within those 248 pages (I've read entire series that weren't even half as fulfilling as the 248 pages in this book are).  Where The Red Fern Grows is my all-time favorite book (just slightly above The Fountainhead).  If you haven't read it, I highly suggest you do as it's better than a lot of what's out there today. It's the story of a boy, Billy; his two hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann; and the sacrifices made out of sheer love and loyalty.  The story is set in the Ozarks during the Great Depression and is a must-read tearjerker for animal lovers.

Mustard (Charlotte Graeber):  I swear I must have been particularly partial to animal stories--sad animal stories.  I remember picking this book up during RIF (Reading is Fundamental) in third grade and reading the entire thing during our designated reading time that same day. It sounds like a large feat for a third grader and, had the book not been only 52 pages with print as big as Donald Trump's ego AND illustrations, it may very well have been.  Anyway, Mustard is a story about a young boy's first loss: a cat named ------wait for it-----Mustard. It's both gut wrenching as well as heartwarming as Mustard teaches us the value of love and the devastation of loss between humans and animals way before Marley and Me was conceived.

The Baby-Sitter's Club (Ann M. Martin):  Or BSC for those of us in the know.  I would be willing to wager that 90% of the female population born in the 1980's have read these books.  For the rest of you, the BSC is a series--that went on well past its expiration date--based on a group of preteen and teenaged girls with nothing better to do but  form a club devoted to taking care of other people's kids.  Along the way, they get themselves into all kinds of shenanigans (as much as 200 pages will allow, unless it was one of the uber Special Edition Mystery ones) of which is conveniently resolved in all it's sugar-coated, Full Housesque glory by the books' conclusion.

It took me twenty years--during this blog writing, actually--to realize that the protagonists in this series would by no means be friends in real life.  Curse you Ann M. Martin and your literary lies.  The characters are all purposefully designed to be as different as night and day.  Too different.  As much as it's refreshing to see a variety of characters, there needs to be some similarities between the characters in order for the cohesiveness Ann M. Martin portrays to realistically work.  There's Kristy, the bossy, loud-mouthed leader of the pack who dresses like a dude; Claudia Kishi, the artistic yet scholarly-challenged black sheep of the family who can't spell worth a damn; Mary Anne Spier, the meek, boring one whose look was seemingly patterned after that of Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island; Stacy the blonde, preppy, city girl with a propensity for older men; and Dawn Schafer, the stereotypical California hippy who doesn't give a damn what people think (stick it to the man, Dawn).  Later in the series, to entice younger readers--or so I presume--two additional members of the club are added who honestly did nothing for the series: Mallory Pike, the whipping-girl and incessant bookworm, and Jessi Ramsey, an aspiring ballerina.

I could probably get along with like two of those characters in person, the rest I would want to smack silly.

Joking aside, as sugary sweet as the BSC was, it was also a huge influence on me back in the day and one of the many books that piqued my love for writing.

R.L. Stine's Goosebump series:The Diet Coke of Stephen King.  This children's horror series acted like training wheels safely guiding youths from the minor to the big leagues.  It was both scary enough to make you sleep with your light on at night (don't judge), yet tame enough to keep you from soiling yourself when a strange noise emanated from across the room.

ANYTHING by Judy Blume AND Beverly Cleary:  Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary are the goddesses of children's fiction.  Any summary I attempt to do of their work wouldn't even remotely do it any justice.  If you don't believe me, read Superfudge, Are You There God?  It's Me Margaret, or anything in the Ramona series.


Monday, April 25, 2011

How I Find Time to Write With a Hectic Schedule

Alas, like most aspiring authors, it's required of me to hold a day job to pay those pesky bills.  Fortunately, I've been lucky enough to work with an amazing group of people as a paralegal at a law firm that I'm exceptionally proud of. < Insert witty lawyer joke here>  For me--and I'm sure the same is true with most people--my job doesn't end after I put my forty plus hours in a week.  When I get home, I instantly have to put on so many hats that I feel like I'm literally turning into a mad hatter.  From mother to wife to dry cleaner to housekeeper to accountant to plumber to groundskeeper to chef to ninja (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating slightly on the ninja role in a futile attempt to feel cool), I always feel as though I'm too busy to keep my head on straight let alone write.  So how does one balance such precious little time during the day between their jobs, family and dreams? Well, I'm glad you asked because, if the title hasn't already tipped you off, it's the subject of today's blog--hey, even I'm prone to my slow moments, just look at my Tweets sometime.

The following ideas include techniques I've actually used myself to feed my creative need in between the chaos and hustle and bustle of life.  Others are those that came to me while composing this blog: 

1.  Take notes:  Most of the time, for me anyway, the best ideas arise at the most inopportune of moments (while on the phone with clients, typing letters, driving home, fighting crime, etc.).  In order to accommodate for these sudden sparks of genius (or so I like to think) I've made it a habit of carrying around a writing utensil and something said utensil can be used to write on. For instance, in my proudest moment, I've made use of a tube of lipstick and a utility bill--I wouldn't recommend this.

While I'm at work, I have a year supply of post-it notes at my disposal of which I use to write down sudden ideas that pop into my head to use when I can actually devote time to writing,  When busy at home, I've been known to use the nearest random piece of paper (including my daughter's coloring book pages, napkins, "to do" lists, and, if I'm lucky, a discarded piece of notebook paper). Fortunately, I've been lucky enough not to have to resort to the toilet paper...yet. 

The point is, when you find yourself consumed with absolutely no time to sit down to hammer out an idea, make use of those items available near you (traditional paper, post-its, children's building blocks or smoke signals) to jot down your thought nuggets for further use and exploration later.

2.  Carry a recorder: Most of the attorneys at my firm have recorders ready to roll at a moments notice--Lord knows my boss makes use of his.  Recorders are convenient if you have a sudden idea that you want to rattle off right away.  Doing this saves time as, unless you're the Speedy Gonzales of the keyboard, most of us speak faster than we are able to write. Use your recorder to record random thoughts, plot epiphanies, dialogue, or even complete pages of material.  They're handy, cheap, and can be used darn near anywhere (although I would recommend avoiding the bathroom).

3.  Use your head:  If you absolutely cannot find something to write on, try to find creative ways to remember those ideas you're coming up with.  For me, music is a huge inspiration for my writing.  A few of the "scenes" in my first manuscript were inspired by various pieces of music. Perhaps there's a poem that has helped inspire a story for you, a location, a memory or a certain person.  Equate your ideas with something that is familiar to you.  It will help you retain them until you can actually write them down.

4.  Bring your laptop with you-While writing Enigma Black, I would, on my lunch hour, whip out my handy dandy netbook (oh God that sounded a little too Blues Clusey) and use my one hour of sanctity to crank out sentences, paragraphs and pages.  That's one good thing about netbooks, the little buggers are tiny and very easily portable. If you don't own a laptop but have access to a computer where you work, use a word (or whatever) program to write and then e-mail what you've written to yourself.  Use any break or opportunity you can get to write.  You'll be surprised by how much you'll be able to accomplish if you do.

5.  While the kids are out cold-I used to cherish nap times for more reasons than just the sudden silence that came with them.  I'm big on being productive and capitalizing on opportunities when they arise. Therefore, nap times and Dora times were like Christmas in my house.  Now, getting my daughter to take a nap is like trying to fight a lion with dental floss and I have to make use of random five minute blocks of time when she's occupying herself (and I literally mean five minutes as, if she's quiet for longer than that, I know I'm in for a mess to clean up).

6.   Become nocturnal:  Not surprisingly, I do most of my writing pretty late at night and I drag ass the next morning because of it. Usually,  I'm unable to begin writing hardcore until after 9 or 10 at night.  Most of the time, I'm writing until around midnight or one in the morning.  Thus, I will apologize in advance for my blog posts.  As writers, we need to adapt even if that means burning the midnight oil or writing at the butt crack of dawn--if, of course, it doesn't have any negative impacts on your family or employment.

Okay writers, I gave you mine, now you give me yours.  What are some ways you manage to fit writing in under a hectic schedule?

My next blog will focus on those books that had the biggest impact on my childhood.

Rejection: It's Not You, It's Me.

“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”--Sylvester Stallone
"I wrote for twelve years and collected 250 rejection slips before getting any fiction published, so I guess outside reinforcement isn't all that important to me." 
                                                                      --Author: Lisa Alther
As any author or aspiring author can vouch for, rejection comes with the territory.  Nevertheless, unless you've somehow managed to develop skin of cast iron (which you should), even knowledge of the inevitable is not enough to soothe the sting.  All my life, I did my best to avoid rejection.  I never asked out guys I had crushes on; I never tried out for sports teams that I didn't know I would make; I never took any kind of risk.  I was content to remain in my own little protective bubble.  However, as I grew older--to the ripe old age of 27--I realized that perhaps what I perceived as contentment was really just complacency.  My life was/is great, but I was denying myself of a passion that I've had since childhood: writing.  Why?  Because I didn't think I was good enough for it to take me anywhere.  Maybe I am, maybe I'm not.  The point is, one shouldn't just cast their dreams aside due to their fear of the unknown.  This brings me to my blog topic for today:  Rejection.

Over the last year (I know, I know, I'm a newb), I've learned to deal with the consequences of chasing my dreams through the harsh waters of query rejections and the brutal blow of a rejection to a full manuscript.  I haven't sent out that many queries and I'm really debating between querying and epublishing (that's a blog for another day).  But, from the rejections to the queries I've sent out, I've both received and have come up with some DOs and DONT'S on how to handle it.


1.  Don't take it personal-It's easy to think to yourself:  Why don't they like me?  What's wrong with my writing?  Maybe I'm not cut out for this after all. With that negative thinking inevitably comes a sense of deep depression.  The reality is that agents sift through thousands of query letters, and several partial manuscrips and full manscripts each month (and I'm pretty sure I'm being conservative here).  Of those query letters, there may be a handful (or more if the agent is new and actively trying to build their client list) that garner a request for the actual manuscript.  Of those manuscripts requested, there may only be one or two, if any at all, that are offered representation.  The fact is, agents are looking for writing that moves them, writing that is marketable.  Suprisingly, some times the two don't coincide.  I have a friend whose manuscript was rejected because it lacked paranormal elements.  The literary world is a subjective one.  What one agent thinks is a gem, another may think is just a pile of rocks.  Whatever the case may be, it's not a personal attack on you as a writer and shouldn't be perceived that way.

2.  Have a good cry then move on-Scream into a pillow, shed a few tears, put a few more shots of whiskey in your coffee, and grumble a few choice expletives--under your breath if, like me, you were at work when you received the craptastic news.  Do all of that then LET IT GO AND MOVE ON.  Each rejection is a stepping stone to publication.

3.  Rejoice-Whether it be Dr. Seuss, Louisa May Alcott, Agatha Christie, John Grisham, Judy Blume, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling, all authors have faced the cold slap of rejection.  Just consider it your personal acceptance letter into an exclusive literary club and become a proud member.

4.  Get back on that horse-Don't take one, two, or even twenty "no's" as accurate indicators of your abilities.  Believe in yourself, continue to write and refine your skill.  Don't let your dreams gallop away from you.

5.  Revise-Assuming your query letter was sent to the right agent (one that represents your genre and isn't closed to submissions), a rejection based on a query letter alone is usually a sign that you need to revise.  The first query letter I ever sent out was nearly three pages long--for those of you who are familiar with the process, I'll give you a second to recover from the shock of that last statement.  I won't dwell on what makes for a decent query letter as I've already covered that in earlier posts.  My point is that unless you know the query letter you sent out is 100% perfect, you may want to consider going back to the drawing board especially if you're at a point where you've received five rejections from the same letter.  A rejection on a manuscript, however, is a completely different animal especially if no real reason is given for the rejection.  Perhaps, additional editing is needed; maybe it's not something they feel they can market; maybe they just didn't fall in love with it (gah, I hate that one).  Whatever the reason is, it never hurts to take a second look at your manuscript.  After all, you already expended copious amounts of time to write and refine it, what's a couple of more weeks going to hurt to ensure it's polished?

6.  Confer with your writing group-I'm not in a writing group, but I hear they're fabulous.  Writing groups are filled with individuals in your same boat; individuals who can and will dispense valuable advice.  Listen to their advice and apply it to your query letter, synopsis and manuscript.  If anyone wants to see you succeed it's someone who's rowing the same boat you are.

7.  Vent-Talk to your friends, family, co-workers.  Give Rover and earful.  Don't keep your feelings bottled up, let them go.  It will make you feel a heck of a lot better and allow you to reclaim your focus.

8.  Save them-Most people want to ball up each and every rejection letter and discard them from their memory as though they never happened.  I, on the other hand, prefer to save mine in a nice, neat, ever-expanding manilla folder.  I save them to remember not to become too comfortable with my writing; I save them as learning tools; I save them to remind myself that taking a risk is always worth it even if it doesn't pan out in the end.  Finally, I save them as I hope to be able to look at them one day--ten, twenty years down the road--when I'm published and need a reminder about where I've come from.


1. Go all Cujo on the agent-You're upset; it's understandable.  However, that doesn't give you automatic liberty to attack the agent or her knowledge of the business.  A few months back, I queried an agent; a new one who was actively seeking to build her client list.  Ultmately, she rejected my query letter which stung but not as bad as it had in the past.  I was upset for about five minutes, but then became positively infuriated when I saw--a blog, a tweet, I can't remember--by said agent roughly complaining about the amount of queries she was receiving and wishing that she had an electronic red "rejected" stamp so that she could just get rid of them all.  Ummmm...ouch.  Glad to know all that hard work and resarch I put in was worth it when I queried her. Anyway, writers need to understand that agenting is a buiness and they can and will run it any way they desire.  As an author, you need to resist the urge to send that scathing email or (gasp) phone call.  Thank the agent for taking the time to review your manuscript (I don't think too many people do this with queries) and move on to the next.

2.  Blame yourself-As I stated above, this business is subjective and, unless your writing is a rough, unedited first draft, most of the time it's nothing you did.

3.  Give up-This is your dream; your risk.  Don't abandon it.  Dig deep into your consciousness and re-discover your reason for writing.  You'll be amazed by how recharged you'll feel.

Some ways to increase your success with agents (I'm still in the process of perfecting these):

1.  Research-Know the agent you're querying.  Become familiar with what genre they represent, what authors they've represented, what their particular tastes are, etc.  For instance my unpublished manuscript features a strong, female protagonist.  While doing reasearch, I found an agent repping my genre who was looking for works featuring a strong female protagonist.  You can bet your ass I sent a query to her mentioning that specific statement. Invest in a subscription to Writer's Digest or borrow reference sources such as the Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, Guide to Literary Agents or Writer's Market.  Those are excellent resources that will assist in pointing you in the right direction.

2.  Put work into your query-The agents you selected aren't going anywhere.  Don't rush through a query letter as though they're going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight. Put the same amount of thought and work into your query as you did your manuscript .  You may have a killer manuscript but if your query sucks, that probably won't matter.

3.  Don't come across as too pretentious-It's great to have confidence in your writing, but if you try to sell your novel as the next big thing, you're more than likely driving the final nail into your coffin.
I hope you all had a Happy Easter.  As always, I would love your thoughts on anything in this post--whether you think I'm right or out in left field.  Don't worry, I don't bite.

Source for great quotes:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Advice I've Encountered Along the Way

Throughout my career as an aspiring author--thank God for day jobs--I've amassed a wealth of advice from speaking with other writers, reading, or through my own personal experiences that I wish I would have known right off the bat. Granted, this advice is something I could have come across with simple research or chatting with others floating in my same boat, but I was but a mere newb with no idea what I was getting myself into.  For those of you considering a career in writing, I hope the following tips are of some help to you.  For those of you who already have a career in writing, I ask that you leave a little slice of advice of your own.

My Less Than Expert Advice

1.  Stringent goals are a buzzkill-Goals are a wonderful thing; they are, perhaps, why you began writing in the first place.  Setting stringent goals with your writing, on the other hand, is like slitting your own throat.  Too often, I've read statements by authors along the lines of, "I'm going to write 1500 words today," or "I'll quit writing for the day after I finish two chapters".   A part of me dies inside every time I read statements such as those (maybe that's what I've been smelling).  There's no sure fire way to either give yourself writer's block or to provoke poor writing than forcing yourself to adhere to unreasonable expectations.  Writing is meant to be enjoyable, empowering even.  If you must force yourself to do it, it's rendered meaningless.  Not only will this affect your demeanor, but the quality of the writing you're forcing down your throat as well.  Rushed, forced writing will read just that:  rushed and forced.

2.  Discouragement is a dirty word-We've all had our low points where we've thought to ourselves maybe this isn't for me after all.  Why else do you think writing has one of the highest incidences of depression than any other profession?  Of course, it does nothing for our mental states when we see the works of Snooki or The Situation being snatched up by publishing companies while ours remain in the slush or, worse, rejection piles.  Dear readers, the only thing standing between you and your dreams is yourself.  By allowing discouragement to eat you alive, you're allowing yourself to negate all the hard work it took to get to where you are. 

3.  Remember why you write-Whether it be as a form of therapy, to share a story with the world, to support a cause, or just to pass the time, we all have a reason why we expend exorbitant amounts of time plugging away at the keys beneath our fingers.  The day you allow yourself to lose sight of that reason is the day you should shelve the laptop until you find it again.

4.  Rushing only makes things take longer-I'm going to leave the obvious joke alone here as this is a family post.  Tell me, when you rush to complete something, can you honestly say you've done your best work?  I didn't think so.  Don't rush to complete a sentence; don't rush to complete a chapter and, by all means, don't rush to complete a novel.  If you decide to rush through a novel just because you're obsessed with seeing it on bookstore shelves, you desperately need to slow your roll, take a deep breath, and allow someone to bitch smack you back into reality.  Believe me, you'll be grateful they did.

5. Read and Write-I've always regarded this as one of those "duh" tips that should be a given, but I digress.  You're only as good as the authors you read, so choose wisely and read often.  You'll be amazed by what you can pick up by studying the writing styles of others.  When I first started writing, I began to pick up on things I never paid even the slightest bit of attention to before (sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, characterization etc.).  Once you've read, sit down and write for as little or as long as you feel compelled to do so.  Even if all you do is write a sentence, you're still working on perfecting the skills necessary to succeed later.

6.  Develop a thick skin-Critiques are crucial for any author and aid in making your story the absolute best it can be.  Sometimes, the truth hurts.  Most of the time the errors comprising the truth can be fixed.  Remove your personal feelings from the critique. Listen to your novice proofreaders and editors for they are your future audience.

7.  Set your work down-For two weeks, two months, or even longer, let the draft of your manuscript lay dormant without so much as a glance in its direction. --It's at this point in the post where those among the "rushers" are completely freaking out at the thought of this premise.--No matter how many times you go over your own manuscript, there will always be errors that you just don't catch.  It's imperative that you be able to look over your work with new eyes (no, putting in contacts does not constitute new eyes).  You'll be amazed by the little things you'll be able to catch (as well as the sheer amount of them) after you've put your manuscript away for an extended period of time.  If you don't believe me, try it for yourself.

8.  Two words for the price of one-Keeping your story flowing is crucial in writing.  Eliminating unnecesary words will do wonders for your flow.  One way to exterminate the little buggers is to look for instances where the meaning of two words can be summed up using just one.

For example:  Instead of using "to allow for" use "enable".  Same meaning, fewer words used to convey it.

9.  Save editing for later-Your first draft is for showcasing your creativity; your second draft is for beating the hell out of it.

10.  Read your work aloud-Somehow, verbally hearing the words you've penned provides more clarity than just "hearing" them in your mind.  There's probably some scientific logic behind this of which one can Google  (I sense a future blog topic).

11.   Keep a something to write on and with on you at all times-Ideas--great, earth-shattering ideas--can creep up on you when you least expect it.  I can't tell you how many times I've had a breakthrough and told myself that I'd write it down as soon as I got home only to find myself home two hours later with my hand in a Pringles can and my eyes glued to the television.  That idea I had two hours earlier?  It's long gone; a distant memory I only wish I could recall.

12.  Get emotional-If you're passionate about your writing, it will translate over to your readers. Dig down deep to that gut wrenching day when your first love broke your heart, you lost your beloved pet; the day you found out Snooki had written a book or that Paris Hilton was recording another album and let that agony run rampant on the page.

13.  Write what you want to, not what you think you need to-This is a topic I've beaten like a dead horse (see my blog post "What Covers Your Literary Bones?" posted on April 12, 2011). Write what's in your heart not what is trendy or marketable.

14.  Be open ot ideas-Just because you have a good idea in your head now, doesn't mean you shouldn't leave room for an even better one to take its place.  Adapt.  If you find that your story isn't gelling, revamp it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Writer vs. Punctuation: An Epic Battle

Remember the olden days?  The days when you were in school and your teacher, professor, instructor, nun, sensei, or even Murray The Janitor were pleased as punch with your proper usage of commas.  Commas; back then they were our one big hurdle to overcome in book reports, exams and Language Arts assignments.  As fledgling writers, we used to believe that when we conquered the almighty comma we would, in essence, conquer the entire Kingdom of the Literary Word.  With the fall of the comma, we'd won the war and there was nothing separating us now from our dreams of literary domination.  But, wait...what's this?  A new onslaught to interrupt (pun intended) our quest?  Suddenly, we find ourselves surrounded by a mass of whole new problems: colons, semicolons and em-dashes.  They're unrelenting and they'e putting up one hell of a fight.

Colons, semicolons and em-dashes are lovely little mindfucks whose seemingly soul purpose is to royally confuse those of us who've stay up well past our bedtimes in order to indulge our ideas of new plot twists, dialogues or to capitalize on a relief from writer's block.  As much as we writers would like to dismiss these curvaceous dots and scintillating dashes, they do in fact serve a purpose and a function.  Undoubtedly, understanding these purposes and functions will take your writing to a whole new level.


Out of the three killjoys, semicolons are probably the easiest one to defeat.  Semicolons; are they a colon or an overexuberant comma?  I don't think they even know. 

Use a semicolon as follows:

  • To separate two independent clauses.  A semicolon is used when you want your audience to briefly pause and then read an entirely different independent  but related clause. Just think of a semicolon as a conjunction's evil twin.
          Example:  I really liked Johnny; his lack of personal hygiene unfortunately made him difficult to be around.
          If a conjunction would have been used:  I really liked Johnny but his lack of personal hygiene unfortunately made him difficult to be around.

          Do not use semicolons to link two completely unrelated ideas:  Calling me "ma'am" makes me homicidal; I want pancakes.

  • Use a semicolon to separate items in a list that utilize other forms of punctuation.
     Example:   Jersey Shore features Pauly somethingorother, a guy with weird hair; Snooki, an "actress" who also wrote a "book"; Ronnie, some other dude of lesser significance; and Mike, a complete moron. <---The fact that I know their names should disqualify me from existence on this planet.


The second horsemen of the Apocolypse are em-dashes--punctuation that features two hyphens for the price of one.

Em-dashes are:
  • Used to interrupt, but not offset a phrase.
       Example:  Jersey Shore is featured in several different languages on MTV--nobody cared.
  • Two em-dashes, one on each side of a phrase, are used essentially in the place of a parentheses for information that you want to include but is completely unnecessary.
      Example:  To the dismay of everyone, this blog will now be featured in several different languages--Japanese, Valleygirlese, Pig Latin, and Spam--from this point forward.


Colons are the most brutal warrior of them all and never cease to foil me. 
  • Use a colon to introduce a list of items
      Example:  You need to possess three traits to read my blog:  a sense of sarcasm, a love of writing, and a bologna sandwich.

  • Use a colon to introduce a definition
      Example:  Jersey Shore (n):  The first sign of the end times.

Now that you have the information necessary to defeat these evil bastards, get to writing. 



Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Top Ten Writing Pet Peeves

This is one of those blog posts where I offer nothing all that informative other than insight into what makes me tick.  In particular, this blog is devoted to what I consider to be the cardinal sins of writing.  Okay, so they aren't that bad--more pet peeves of mine.  As writers, we all have--at least I hope--our own styles of writing.  With those styles come opinions and perceptions of what is right, wrong and just plain annoying.  My list of the just plain annoying--keeping with my whole sin theme--is presented below:

1.  Thou Shall Not Write A Paperweight-I LOVE vivid descriptions...when they're warranted that is.  Some authors, however, like to riddle their works with as much unnecessary detail as possible resulting in a book with the capacity to kill someone if it were to fall off a shelf.  If I owned Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead in hardcover, for example, I'd make for darn sure they were on the bottommost shelf. Detail is great; detail is the icing on an otherwise satisfactory baked good.  Nevertheless, too much of a good thing will eventually make you sick.

2.  Thou Shall Not Begin A Sentence With The Word "And"-Let me make this clear, there is nothing grammatically wrong with beginning a sentence that way--unless of course you happened to have been one of my Language Arts teachers.  In Water For Elephants, many sentences begin this way garnering a reponse from me akin to someone running their nails down a chalkboard.  Even though I have reluctantly allowed myself to commit this act, it's just unnatural to me--which I guess is the very definition of "pet peeve".

3.  Thou Shall Refrain From Naming Thy Characters Either "Edward" or "Jacob"-I don't think I have to mention what book series includes these two names.  Unfortunately, they're also the names of two characters in Water For Elephants (which makes the fact that Rob Pattinson is playing "Jacob" that much more amusing).  There are other old school names besides "Edward".  For example, Harry, Peter, Rufus, Delbert...okay, I can see why Edward would be the  first choice.

4.  Thou Shall Focus On BOTH Plot AND Character Development For One Is NOT Better Than The Other:  I've read a few novels where there were incredible characters with a very narrow plot for them to traverse through (and vice versa, although not as often).  This is your novel, your attention to detail and perfection should shine throughout ALL aspects.

5.  Thou Shall Not Recycle The Same Story Over And Over Again-I've addressed this in my other blogs if you want a true rant on this little gem read my post on query letters.  As an aspiring author, I understand that pleasing your readers is immensely important, but if you've developed a devoted enough following, I think they'll understand if you mix things up a bit.  Instead of just a romance, perhaps include a smattering of mystery or suspense, for example.  I've read works by authors where it seemed like all they did was change the character's names and setting, but left the rest like everything else they've ever written.  Too often, I believe authors become so wrapped up in what has made them successful that they feel they've grown all they can.  This leads me to my next peeve;

6.  Thou Shall Travel Out Of Thy Comfort Zone-I'm the perfect example of this.  Not too many women dabble in science fiction (high five to my sisters who do).  In fact, if you would have told me five years ago that I would actually write a science fiction novel, I would have thought you crazy. When I first began writing, I toyed with romance, YA and works of a dramatic nature (just short stories, nothing big).  It was only after my novel refused to leave the crevices of my cranium that I finally decided that I would write it down just to eliminate the headache.  Sure, it was uncomfortable and required some research on my part, but not only did I get a novel out of it, I now have a series in the works.  If I would have stayed with romance, I may still be stock on a plot line.

7.  Thou Shall Not Question Thy Reader's Intelligence:  If your readers are surprised to learn that a school bus is a brilliant shade of maize encompassing a bulky metallic structure built for the transport of small humans, chances are they won't have the mental capacity to even pick up a book let alone read it.  Don't be overly descriptive of trivial things, it's both unnecessary and unfortunate.  Your readers know how to brush their teeth, you don't need to provide them with step-by-step instructions in your novel.

8. Thou Shall Not Overuse Punctuation:  I've never purported to be the Queen of all Grammar.  Lord knows--during the revision stage--I've often questioned my own comma misusage.  Don't place commas, semicolons or em dashes willy-nilly as though you're decorating a Christmas tree.  Take time to learn how they're used.  I know, I know I need to take my own advice on this one.

9.  Thou Shall Try To Maintain Unpredictable Dialogue:  This is, unfortunately, something I also need to work on.  All too often, I come across dialogue--mainly a parent talking to a child--where I don't even need to read the page to know what's being said.  Conventional dialogue doesn't always translate into good parenting.  Surprise the reader, make your characters say something completely unexpected or new.

Finally, the biggest one of them all:

10. Thou Shall Deliver On One's Promises:  I recently read a book that promised an epic battle; the battle of the century, in fact.  Well, maybe it didn't literally promise that this was going to happen but the build-up throughout the first 500 or so pages was really making me anxious.  About ten pages away from the ending, I'm thinking to myself, is there another book in this series?  Sadly, there was no such book...and no such battle.  Had there been one perhaps that series could have been saved in my eyes.  Instead, I was just pissed.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stay away from being anticlimatic.  For those of you who fail to heed this suggestion, you better begin readying yourselves for your readers to rally around your home with pitchforks.

There you have it, my ten Pet Peeves.  Now it's your turn to leave some of your own.  For the purpose of my blog is for writers to come together to vent, advise, debate and confer over the one passion we all have in common.

My next post will stick to my usual, informative format and will address the proper usage of semicolons and em dashes as I too could use a refresher course.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

They Say We're Craaaaaazzzzzyyyy

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”--E.L. Doctorow

This is one quote I keep coming back to time and time again as it's one of the most truthful sayings I've come across throughout my meanderings on the web. Writers:  They say we're craaazzzyyy; Maybe we're craaaaazzzyy; I think we're craaaazzzy; probably.  Okay, I'm turning off the Gnarls Barkley machine now.  Incidently, for the longest time I used to believe the artist performing that song was none other than "Charles Barkley".  I used to think to myself, man, is there anything that man can't do?"  I blame the blonde highlights. 

Alright, back to the blog.  As writers, we are all absolutely out of our minds.  Why, you ask?  Because no other profession--except, perhaps, the health care industry--deals with the absolute frustrations and all out disappointments that our chosen paths do.  In no other profession does one have to bear their soul to the entire world for its harsh criticism, praying to the God's of publication to grant us their ultimate approval.  In no other profession is rejection met with the cold, impersonal form letter of doom.  As writers, we spend weeks, months and, in my case years, mulling over the stories in our heads that won't shut-up (more on that later).  Then, once we finally decide to commit to our "someday I'm going to write a novel" statement we've all made to our family and friends, we virtually torture ourselves over character development, plot lines, dialogue, research (so we don't sound like idiots), and a slew of other gems that come with the territory.  Everything has to be perfect, a fact of which we beat ourselves over the head with repeatedly.

In most professions, after that insane amount of time and work is expended,  the project is considered complete. For us writers, however, it's only the beginning.  Upon completion of the first draft, we begin to realize the torture we thought we were experiencing  before was nothing compared to the hell of revisions. Revisions; the bane of most writer's existence.  I have yet to come across an author that likes doing them and, if I ever do, I will have no choice but to question their sanity.  All the hard work the author has poured into their manuscript is cut.  Dialogues and scenes are dramatically shortened or deleted entirely; moments of sheer genius are rendered meaningless.  Revisions leave no stone unturned and, even after you've gone through your manuscript 5...6...even 7 times, you've still not caught all that will later be found wrong with it by an agent and/or editor. 

After the revision process comes the even more sadistic querying process. This is a whole knew demented breed of animal of which I addressed in earlier blogs.  The bottom line is, even with all the blood, sweat and tears we pour into our novels, the majority of them--and a good share of us--will be met with nothing but rejection and heartache from the overlords of conventional publishing and our families and friends who want to know when our novels will be on the bookstore shelves and when we're going to purchase our first yacht.

Why, then, do we write?  We write because the fiber of our beings demand it.  There's nothing more exhilarating than completing a story that has been burning a hole inside you anxiously awaiting to explode onto the pages.  We write because that's our identity.  The written word is how we've chosen to express ourselves, how we want to expose ourselves to society.  We write because, well, maybe there's a little craaaaaazzzzzyyy in us after all.

So...Sara, that quote you mentioned earlier has absolutely nothing to do with the rantings spewed above.  Well, the mention of schizophrenia made me think of crazy and crazy made me think of the rigmarole we writer's have to go through to get a bite of the apple of success.  The rest just snowballed from there.

The way I take the wise E.L. Doctorow's quote to mean is that, in writing, we all hear voices (whether we're willing to admit it or not).  These voices are the characters in our books pleading--in some cases, demanding--for us to tell their stories.  For me, I had the storyline for Enigma Black on constant repeat in my head for nearly ten years before I finally began hammering it out.  As writers, we rely on these voices to give us ideas, to foster new ideas for novels.  As annoying as they can be (and as crazy as they can make us feel), they are our best allies and we'd be incredibly screwed if they were to shut-up completely.

Embrace schizophrenia.  Your readers will thank you for it.

My next blog will feature some of the deadliest sins a writer can commit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don't Let Your Genre Define You; Define Your Genre

A good writer improves upon an existing genre; a great writer defines it altogether (this is either a moment of sheer genius for me--one that comes around even less frequently than Haley's Comet--or I've heard this somewhere that I can't quite put my finger on).

One of the very basics in writing is genre selection.  We all have that one niche in the literary world that enthralls us, grasping our attentions without letting go.  Whether it be romance, paranormal, chick lit, faith-oriented, fantasy, or, in my case, science-fiction; we all have that one special piece of literature that inspires us enough to put finger to keyboard.  When I first started writing, I had absolutely no idea what genres were.  All I wanted was to write stories that people wanted to read and didn't understand why writing for a specific audience was so important.  Well, one novel down, a second one in the works and a slew of rejections later, you could say I'm more or less being forced to see the light. 

Which brings me to my blog for today:  Why must writers be forced to stick with the stringent guidelines and boundaries genres bind us to?  What ever happened to creativity?  After all, the genres of today were once, themselves, defined by someone or some piece of literature.  Why are the genre police seemingly stepping in now?  And exactly where is  Jimmy Hoffa?

Enough of my mindless ponderings--although, I'm officially claiming dibs on the superhero-science-fiction-dystopian genre in lit form.  The point is that there was once a point in time where a defined genre was rendered virtually undefined with its very definition skewed by works never before seen (and sometimes panned).  If it's one thing I hope to accomplish, in my literary career, it's to produce work never before read by the public or, so clearly different that my story stands out from the pack.  I realize that these are all very grand dreams, but if you don't try to shoot for the stars how do you ever expect to land amongst the puffy white clouds of greatness?  I don't want to nor do I need to be catapulted into the stratosphere, I just want to be recognized.  To have my work admired and its meaning pondered like so many clouds in the sky would be the biggest high a writer could achieve.

This blog is going to kick off a series of blogs wherein I showcase those pieces of literature that, at their time, not only defined their genres, but created an entirely different sub-genre in their wake.  Not surprisingly, I will kick off my first blog in this series with those works of science fiction.  For this blog, I am incorporating the article "Science Fiction Books That Launched Their Own Genres" written by Charlie Jane Anders from the website  (a link to this specific article will be included below).

Military Science Fiction-(Book:  Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers)-Despite the popular works of H.G. Wells, the book that seems to be given the credit for the institution of military science fiction is Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein (yeah, this perplexes me too).  With it's futuristic setting and incorporation of interplanetary warfare involving the inclusion of the military, Henlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers, as Fandomania's survey stated, "put Military Science Fiction on the radar."

Cyberpunk-(Book:  William Gibson's Neuromancer)-Althought there's some debate over who really came up with Cyberpunk as a genre (several sources have noted Asimov to be the first writer to consider the ramificaitons of artificial intelligence seriously).  Bruce Sterling's 1986 anthology Mirrorshades helped shaped the genre.  However, it was Bruce Bethke who invented the term "cyberpunk" with his 1980 short story aptly entitled "Cyberpunk", but even he admits:

 "I never claimed to have invented cyberpunk fiction! That honor belongs primarily to William Gibson, whose 1984 novel, Neuromancer, was the real defining work of "The Movement." (At the time, Mike Swanwick argued that the movement writers should properly be termed neuromantics, since so much of what they were doing was clearly Imitation Neuromancer.)

 Neuromancer, by William Gibson, helped to popularize brain-computer interfaces and dystopian paranoia which few could only come close to imitating.

Gothic Science Fiction-(Book:  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein).  To be honest, I never knew such a genre existed and I must say, I'm intrigued.  Oh the things we find out when we're tooling around online instead of working on our books.  Shelley's Frankenstein has commonly been referred to as the very first science fiction novel in general. It was also the first of its kind to meld gothic literature with abuse of science and an obsessed mad scientist.  Since the publication of Frankenstein, gothic science fiction has been affiliated with any science-fictional story that incorporates terror a horrendous monster or some other kind of scientifically engineered horror.

First contact with an alien race-(Book:  Arthur C. Clark's Childhood's End).  I'm not really sure how this is a genre, so I will let Ms. Anders explain:  "This was a tough one - even if you only define "first contact" as being a scenario where human society, as a whole, comes into contact with an alien species (and not just one solitary human explorer) you still have tons of early stories about aliens showing up. Some would say the earliest notable "first contact" novel is H.G. Wells' The War Of The Worlds. But let's say that a crucial component of the "first contact" story is that the aliens are friendly - or at least reasonably well-intentioned. Otherwise, you just have an invasion or war story. In that case, Childhood's End, with its super-advanced Overlords showing up and guiding humanity to a higher plane of existence and merger with the Overmind, although somewhat disturbing, is still a more benign story than Wells'. And thus a more proper precursor to books like Carl Sagan's Contact and Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis saga."

Utopian Science Fiction-(Book:  Jane C. Loudon's The Mummy!; Or a Take of the Twenty-Second Century).  For those of you who don't know what "utopian" means, look up antonyms for "dystopian" and you will be lead to worlds filled with rainbows, sunshine and unicorn farts (I tend to stay away from those worlds).  Utopian novels are those that present the future in an optimistic tone.  An excerpt of Loudon's book is as follows:

"The ladies were all arrayed in loose trowsers, over which hung drapery in graceful folds; and most of them caried on their heads, streams of lighted gas forced by capillary tubes, into plumes, fleurs-de-lis, or in short any form the wearer pleased; which jets de feu had an uncommonly chaste and elegant effect."

Apocalyptic Fiction-(Book: Nevil Schute's On The Beach).  The first popular novel featuring all out global fuckery features a nuclear holocaust that devestates the Northern Hemisphere leaving its survivors in Austrailia and New Zealand where they drink way too much (why wait for the end of the world for that) while awaiting their end as well.

Steampunk-(Book: K.W. Jeter's  Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy).  Incidently, for those of you who write based upon trends (shame, shame), Steampunk is highly in demand at the moment.

"K.W. Jeter not only invented the term steampunk, in an interview around the time this 1987 novel came out. A weird comic twist on the Victorian adventure novel, Infernal Devices stars George, a young watchmaker who discovers that his father was the greatest inventor of all time - even creating a clockwork automaton version of George. The clockwork duplicate of George plays the violin better than Paganini and has greater sexual prowess than George himself, leading to all sorts of wacky adventures as people mistake George for his automaton twin. Other books that could claim to be steampunk pioneers include Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (1983) and Homunculus (1986) by James Blaylock. But to be fair, the book that really popularized the steampunk genre was 1990's The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling."->I reposted this as I'm a tad too tired to summarize  it.

Time travel-(Book:  H.G. Wells' The Time Machine).  Oh H.G. Wells, you science fiction God and inspirer of Doc Brown in the Back To The Future series, how your presence in this blog is 100% necessary.  "The best-known early time-travel saga, and still one of the best, Wells' story launched a whole flotilla of time vessels into the distant future as well as the past. Like War Of The Worlds, it has been adapted into movies and various other formats, and the Eloi/Morlock dichotomy has become a sort of shorthand for a type of future dystopia rife with exaggerated social division."

Alternate history-(Book:  Histoire de la Monarchie universelle: Napoléon et la conquête du monde (History of the Universal Monarchy: Napoleon And The Conquest Of The World.) "Screw those "Hitler wins World War II" books. How about this popular "Napoleon won the Napoleonic wars" book, published back when Napoleon was still a living memory? Louis Geoffroy imagines Napoleon's First French Empire defeating Russia and then going on to invade England in 1814. Result: Game over. Napoleon rules the world."  Okay, this was too good as it was for me to paraphrase it.

Last but not least:

Posthuman space opera-(Book:  Iain M. Banks' Consider Phlebas).  Personally, when I think of space opera, I think of Star Wars--don't ask me why....

"I have no idea what book launched the "space opera" genre originally - that might be a question for another day. And there's some debate over which book inspired the resurgence of space-opera books loosely called "the new space opera." But to me, it's probably more accurate to call this genre "posthuman space-opera," since it so frequently deals with artificial intelligences, augmented humans, beings who live for millions of years, and generally a set of characters who far exceed the capabilities of a regular human. And for my money, the first really influential star-spanning novel about a civilization of A.I.s (the Minds) and superhumans whose concerns are much farther reaching than our pathetic horizons was 1987's Consider Phlebas. I freely admit this may be a bit of personal bias showing through, since Phlebas was the first novel I read which really knocked my head off and made me see the awesome potential for this type of story."

My Wonderfully Informative Source

Now that you know entirely too much about science fiction genres, I'll conclude my post.  All of the authors above have one thing in common:  they weren't afraid to buck trends and take control of their writing.  In doing so, they singlehandedly created their own genres, re-drawing the lines in the sand in which one can cross.  Without authors such as them, genres as a whole would inevitably grow monotonous.  Therefore, dear reader/writer, I implore you to grab your genre by the reigns.  Define your genre; don't let it define you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

From Page to Stage-Water for Elephants

As I get ready to fire up the Kindle to read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, I feel compelled to post the trailer for the movie (in theaters in the US this Friday, April, 22).  Not since my teenage years have I felt so giddy to watch a film.  I've not read the book yet, but I've read a synopsis and, if it's half as good as the movie trailer makes it appear, it should be one phenomenal piece of literature  (my own book report to follow shortly).

Why I Write

I usually try to stay away from personal, touchy-feely posts as they usually aren't informative or really all that helpful--other than for providing a quick therapy session for their writer.  This post isn't going to be a warm and fuzzy kind of post, but it will deviate from the norm of my blog.  In reviewing previous posts, it's become pretty obvious to me that my readers aren't going to know squat about me by just the posts alone--not that the person behind the blog is all that exciting. 

Anywho, I decided to open up in this blog and post the reasons why I write and what keeps me on task through all the frustrations this career choice brings with it:

1.  If I didn't, I'd be suppressing my identity: Writing is in my blood, it's a part of my very soul.  Every day, I have to be someone else; whether it's a paralegal, mother, Army wife, or just a friend.  In those roles, I'm a suppressed version of myself.  Through writing, I've discovered who I really am and what I really want.  Writing allows me to truly live my life to its fullest.

2.  It keeps me sane: In the monotony of the daily world with all the tasks appointed to a person and the stressors associated with them, it's easy to feel as though you're drowning in turmoil.  Writing provides me with the boat and oar to paddle across the seas of life.

3.  Someday, I hope to make a career out of it: As much as I'm grateful to have the job that I do have, it's not what I want to do for rest of my life.  Writing is not something I expect nor necessarily want to get rich doing (although that would  be insanely cool).  If I could just make a comfortable living doing it and I could pay my bills, I would be incredibly fulfilled.

4.  Lets face it, it would be fippin' cool to write a movie:  I don't care what an author says, in their minds they are secretly hoping that Hollywood will pick up their novels and give the characters they created in their minds a face to a worldwide audience.

5.  A sense of accomplishment:  In my 29 years on this planet, I feel as though I've accomplished a lot (a great marriage, beautiful daughter and a sucessful career as a paralegal).  I truly have a ton to be thankful for, but despite all that, I feel like there is something missing.  Writing novels makes me feel as though I've actually accomplished something, like I've earned my place in this world.

First Person vs. Third Person: A Fair Fight?

The beauty about writing is that there are no boundaries; no set style; no rules.  An author can write about painters and pirates and prostitutes (oh my).  They can take their readers to the Alps, the Vatican or the back alleys of New York.  There is unlimited ground to cover and a writer has the luxury of creating their own map to traverse it.  Since there are no rules when it comes to the who, the what and the where in writing, it only makes sense that there would also be very limited, if any, rules when it comes to the how in writing.  Thus, today's blog topic: First person vs. Third Person Point of View.  Before the two duke it out below, I will give you my take on the topic (sorry, you're not getting away that easy).

Personally, I find it's a lot easier to write in first person vs. third person.  However, with that said, many agents/publishers consider first person point of view to be amateurish, ostensibly creating a rather nasty barrier between writers who prefer this technique and their odds of achieving publication.  This pickiness is one of the many, many reasons why publication through mediums such as Kindle and Nook are becoming so popular. 
First person point of view, in my opinion, takes the readers along for the ride more effectively than third person.  Afterall, aren't first person shooter games a hell of a lot more interesting than first?  In first person, you tend to relate to the protagonist more and the story flows more fluidly (both for the reader and the author).  What's the down side to writing in this format?  The plot.  If you have a rather complex and involved plot or subplots, writing in first person is very restrictive to how far you're able to explore those plots as the protagonist has to essentially be involved in almost every aspect of each one.  This is where third person works more efficiently.  Third person doesn't limit you to one character or one setting at one time which is why you will see third person used more in adult literature.

In my novels, Enigma Black and Vendetta Nation, I found that I wanted to focus on characterization as well as involved subplots.  Thus, I opted to go with both points of view (which is widely frowned uponm, I've never been one for the conventional).  Albeit, I use the third person points of view sparingly with its presence appearing in very limited chapters.  I also do a clear section break as to avoid confusing the reader.  This is incredibly important if you're going to blend these two writing styles successfully. 

Initially, I began writing Enigma Black (the first novel in the series) in third person.  It wasn't until the third chapter that I realized this technique just wasn't going to work and decided to give the finger to "conventional" by adopting my own "no rules" philosophy.  In my opinion, it's worked out great for me (others may and probably do disagree) and I have a massive amount of respect for those authors who can blend the two styles harmoniously.

With my two cents out of the way, I present to you first vs. third person point of view.  Lets get it on!

First Person

-Done from a single character's point of view (POV for us cool people) throughout the book, it gives the reader a biased opinion of the other characters through the protagonist's eyes.

-We as the reader know exactly what's on the protagonist's mind (except, if you're Edward Cullen and the protagonist is Bella, then you're just f***ed).

-Usage of the word "I": "I wasn't sure what I was going to do"; "I thought"; "I wanted to go bury my head in a hole after reading...".

-More women write in first person than men (I actually think I have yet to read a first person written by a man). 

-First person is character oriented (men seem to be more plot/action/suspense oriented which may be a reason why they shy away from first).

Advantages of First Person

-The writing flows easier.  It's good for beginners.

-Good for the insertion of humor

-Strong characterizations

Disadvantages of First Person

-If you aren't spot-on with characterization it will be blatantly obvious.

-Subplots will be difficult to formulate and maintain making it difficult for a series character to carry a plot-oriented storline.

-Your story can very easily become monotonous.

-Compared to third person books, there are not that many first person books in publication.

-Mainly seen in YA

Third Person

-Can be done from one character's POV or many character's POV.

-The POV character is referred to by their name or he/she: "Roger wasn't sure what was up with Sally"; "Men," Sally muttered in disgust.  It was clear to her that he just didn't get it.

Advantages of Third Person

-Complex storylines with multiple subplots.

-Suspense can be built by switching POVs.

-Publishers are more interested in third person POVs.

Disadvantages of Third Person

-It's easier to confuse the reader by hopping into several character's "heads" at once.

-Lack of character development.

-By repeatedly switching scenes and POVs, it's easier to alienate the reader from the characters and the storyline.

The bottom line is a writer should write what they want to write and in whatever style they feel comfortable writing in.  Should an author venture away from their comfort zone and test the waters once in a while?  Yes, of course they should.  But if you find that doesn't work for you, then write what does.  Never compromise yourself and your style for the wishes and desires of others.  Trends are fickle and so is the literary world.  One day your style could be discouraged; the very next day, it could be encouraged.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scaling Mt. Plot Line

In my April 13, 2011 blog, I addressed/suggested ways to create compelling characters.  In this blog, I've elected to focus on crafting an interesting plot.

An interesting plot or compelling characters; which is more important in writing? Obviously, this is/should be a rhetorical question as a writer should painstakingly focus on BOTH aspects while crafting works of fiction (unless of course you're a certain author of vampires who's somehow successfully managed to completely throw the whole concept of a plot line under the bus, repeatedly running it over until it's rendered a flat, mutilated mess).  Unfortunately, SM isn't the only author out there with a limited attention span only allowing them to focus on one aspect of composing a novel.  Many authors believe that the charaters in the story are what carries it and that their readers will completely ignore the absence of any real, tangible plot or one that is so insipid a text book would be more interesting.  This phenomenon is seen quite a bit in the Young Adult genre. 

On the other side of the coin, still many authors tend to focus on plot lines more than the characters for fear their audience, mainly adults in this case, will surely scrutinize a poorly constructed plot over lackluster characters.  Very rarely do you find an author who writes with both aspects in mind and with obvioulsy equal time and attention devoted to each one.  J.K. Rowling, for example, is one of those authors.

Here are some ways that authors can go about creating a captivating plot:

1.  Graphs, Charts and Outlines-This is a clear case where I should be taking my own advice. Personally, I hate composing these.  Yet, despite this fact, I must conceded they are extremely helpful.  Outline, outline, outline.  An outline (or chart or graph whichever floats your boat) is a tool used to figure out where you want your story to begin, climax and end.  It includes all the key elements in your story as well as pertinent sub-elements that form the stepping stones to take you where you're going. Essentially, your entire story is laid out naked before your eyes ready for scrutiny and the discovery of any potential plot holes.  Your first set of revisions can actually also be done at this stage with simple nips, tucks or all out plastic surgery saving you a heap of grief in the long run.

2.  Imagination-This is one of those "duh" examples but I'm using it anyway.  We all have an imagination.  Some of us just harness it better than others. In developing a plot line, let your imagination run rampant.  Don't be afraid to try new things and live a little (cough *Nicholas Sparks* cough). After all, when else will you be able to sail across the Pacific, journey to a mythological land, or have conversations with animals all while completely sober?

3.  Be open minded-Don't close yourself off to revisions or possibilities that weren't conceived with your original plot idea.  Consider your initial idea a lump of soft clay.  Initially, you decided to mold a flower pot, but half-way through, you notice it's sagging off to one side and it's becoming painfully obvious that it will never hold any water.  Do you keep molding the pot, say screw it and let it hardended into an ugly, deformed pile of junk?  Of course not.  The flower pot idea isn't working so you change plans and mold a cute little tea cup instead.  The same should be done with your plot lines.  If they don't work, fix them. 

4.  Reality Novel Writing-Have you ever heard the saying "real life is stranger than fiction"?  Well, sometimes there's a hint of truth to that (except if it involves sitting on your ass, with your hand in a bag of Cheetos watching Ghost Adventures--don't judge).  Take some of the more devastating, humorous, or important events of your life and write about them.  Now, change the characters' names and the setting.  Shazam, you now have the makings of a plot line for a novel.   See how easy that was.

5.  Fix or Adapt an Existing Story-For example, how many variations of Romeo and Juliet are there?  Answer:  A crapton (yes, that's an actual unit of measurement).  Recently, the story of Little Red Riding Hood was re-written, re-tooled and re-made to be much more interesting and relevant to the 21st Century with the movie/book Red Riding Hood.  Just because a story has been written before doesn't mean it can't be rewritten and improved upon.  Of course, if  you're going to do this, just make sure it's an original storyline and that you're only borrowing concepts and not committing all out plagiarism.

6.  Play God-Make your character's lives a living hell.  Keep lovers from reuniting; maintain a never ending conflict; give your characters impossible obstacles to overcome.  I've read many articles that have stated that an author should ask themselves "how can I make this situation worse"?  Find a way and do it.  You'll not only build up to an explosive climax, but you'll also take your readers on one hell of a ride in the process; a ride of which will take them a while to recover from.

7. Know your plot-Do not create a plot you're not going to be able to carry out.  The beautiful thing about fiction is that it's, well, fiction.  There's no truth to it and you can bend the hell out of facts in the process.  However, there's a fine line between genius and ridiculous and facts can only bend so much until they break into pieces. Don't let your story break apart on you.  If you find that you  have a somewhat complicated plot, do your research.  For example, if you're writing a story that takes place in the Prohibition era, research the Prohibition era. Chances are your reader already has.

Building a Plot Line is Like Scaling a Mountain

The very basic of plots are much like scaling a mountain.  In the beginning, you start out level with both feet firmly on the ground.  The higher you climb, the more the tension builds until you reach the climax, or peak of the mountain. As you begin to descend the mountain, the conflict slowly winds down until resolution is reached back where you started on the ground.

Plot Lines are essentially broken down into six levels:

1.  Exposition-This level gives the readers the basic information they need to carry with them throughout the entirety of the novel.  It includes all the background information on the characters, the setting and sets the plot into motion.  As important as this level is, it's even more important not to dwell on it as too much information can bog the entire story down.

2.  Inciting Moment-This is probably the most important level as it connects the situation the charactes are part of in the beginning of the story to the end of the story.  The inciting moment begins the action and sets in motion the events that carry out the plot focussing on character and audience suspense. In Romeo and Juliet, the inciting moment occurs when the two meet for the first time.

3.  Rising Action-The basic conflict is complicated by related secondary conflicts (sub-plots) all of which serve to make the protagonist's life a living hell.

4.  Climax-The climax is the culmination of levels 1-3.  It's where the shit hits the fan and the characters' lives are altered in irreparable ways--at least they should be.  For an example of anti-climatic, read Breaking Dawn.

5.  Falling Action-Any conflict(s) between the protagonist and the antagonist (villian, pain in the ass)  slowly unravels with the protagonist having either won or lost.  A final moment of suspense may be added to fog the final outcome making the reader doubtful as to who came out on top, forcing them to read through to the resolution. In a series, this event may be dragged out with no final resolution being reached until later installments.  Therefore, instead of a mountain, you'll be faced with several large hills.

6.  Resolution-The End.  All conflicts have, hopefully, been resolved leaving the author with very little, if any, questions.  Sometimes an author, to be an asshole, will completely end at a cliff-hanger leaving the readers to guess what the hell happened (think Sopranos finale).

In my next blog, I'll address the differences and advantages of writing in third person vs. first person point of view.

Finally, I'd like to give a shout-out to my Denmark reader(s).  I have absolutely no idea who you are or how you found me, but I'm happy you did.  Hell, I almost have as many views from you as I do from my own country which in some ways is kind of sad.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Clear Case Of One Man's Mission To Ruin It For The Rest Of Us

If you feel compelled to praise your novel as "a special piece of work" and compose a synopsis describing it as "a man's exploration of love, self, wilderness and LSD, and time spent masquerading as a ram" (grammatical errors aside), you may want to reconsider your career choice.

Rich Shapero is a former venture capitalist with entirely too much money on his hands and a sick desire to royally piss off those talented authors who legitimately desire to buck the endangered gatekeepers in order to traverse the route of self-publishing (whether through e-books or in general).  Not finding many takers for his book Wild Animus--a story about his life--Shapero has taken matters into his own hands and pocketbook.  Singlehandedly, he's launched his own publishing company, appropriately dubbed Too Far, where he's printed off several thousand books for distribution.  Now, if Mr. Shapero were to have stopped there then, despite Wild Animus' piss-poor reviews, he may have been able to garner the support of those authors who don't believe agents are necessary.  But no, oh no, he didn't stop there.  The books are printed, so what else does he need?  Why a way to get the word out about it, of course.  And what's the best way to get the word out?  Why to hire actors to dress up as rams and parade around like a bunch of idiots to market your efforts, of course.  Now why didn't the classical authors of yesteryear think of that? I mean, just think of how much more successful Jack London's The Call of the Wild would have been if he'd hired a gang of Saint Bernards to maul the heck out of unsuspecting readers.

For many people, Shapero's antics are amusing, perhaps somewhat comical.  In fact, there will be people who purchase his book based solely upon its negative press and the desire to take part in a literary trainwreck.  For us more serious authors, however, people like Mr. Shapero are the bane of our existence. They are the reason why this industry is a closed one; why agents and publishers are afraid to take a chance on new, unpublished authors.  This is also exactly why new authors who choose to publish their works on e-readers may not find the success they crave. Mr. Shapero has opened up a Pandora's Box of stupidity which will inevitably call others like him to action invariably creating a domino effect that will only serve to topple new authors in the views of society.

It would be a completely different scenario if Mr Shapero had the talent to go along with his wallet, but, if the reviews have any grain of truth to them, that's not the case either (although one person's crap may be another person's Twilight).  Indeed, Mr. Shapero has gone too far.

One highlight in the article--blink and you'll miss it-- is the following excerpt:
"Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Marx's book was turned down by a half-dozen publishers. He self-published the work, called "Season of Life," about a former professional football player turned minister. After he sold 14,000 copies out of his car and home, the book was picked up by Simon & Schuster. It was No. 10 on last week's New York Times nonfiction best-seller list."

This is a classic example of why e-publishing is currently such a huge success. A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter can't get published conventionally yet Snookie from The Jersey Shore had no problems landing a book deal.  What the F***.

Venture capitalist rewrites the starving-author story

With deep pockets and an even deeper belief in his inner Hemingway, first-time novelist Rich Shapero is taking vanity publishing to a new level.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist wrote his novel, founded a company to publish it and then launched one of the biggest and most colorful individual book giveaways ever.

Shapero, 56, is spending nearly a half-million dollars to promote "Wild Animus," due in stores in early October. And he has a 13-city book tour planned.

Thousands of advance copies have been handed out at music festivals, food fairs and art exhibits. Actors dressed as rams -- a key character in Shapero's book -- have stampeded book industry events. Shapero paid for the creation of a directory of book clubs nationwide, and then offered books for free.
He also sent copies to interested members of, the online community of 250,000 bibliophiles. Members have posted reviews ranging from "Weird and different," to "One of the worst books I ever read."

Shapero is part of a self-publishing explosion that has enabled wannabe writers to print books on demand.
As fiction editor Jay Schaefer says, innovations in technology have "turned publishing into an open mike."
"Anyone can get up and do the equivalent of perform their book," said Schaefer of Chronicle Books in San Francisco, which is not affiliated with The Chronicle newspaper. "So there are a lot of books out there that to some degree would not have been published before."

Online publishing companies such as Xlibris and iUniverse offer aspiring authors services from copyediting to publishing and marketing. Bookstores are experimenting with kiosks that allow authors to print books while they wait.

The venerable Kirkus Reviews announced last week that it will begin reviewing self-published books -- for a $350 fee. The announcement marks the first time in the company's 71-year history that individuals can pay to have a book reviewed.

"There are more people who want to be authors than readers," said Michael Cader, a book packager who writes the newsletter PublishersLunch, which has a daily circulation of 28,000.

He referred to a recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, which found that the percentage of Americans who read books has steadily declined over the last two decades, while over the same period, the number of people taking creative writing courses increased by 30 percent.

Cader said that an estimated 175,000 books were published in the United States last year. That doesn't include the tens of thousands of self-published books. While the vast majority of self-published books never make it past the author's coffee table, some manage to attract the attention of mainstream publishers.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Marx's book was turned down by a half-dozen publishers. He self-published the work, called "Season of Life," about a former professional football player turned minister. After he sold 14,000 copies out of his car and home, the book was picked up by Simon & Schuster. It was No. 10 on last week's New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

"There are a number of successful books that began life as self-published books," Cader said. "But, attention doesn't equal sales."

Cader said he hadn't heard of Shapero's book. But when told of some of the author's publicity efforts, he remembered a "Wild Animus" encounter.

"I was at the Book Expo America in Chicago and heard of these people dressed as sheep or something who jumped in a fountain, I think," Cader said. "I was aware of it and tried to stay as far away as possible."

Steve Zeitchik, news editor at Publishers Weekly, said, "You've always had vanity publishing, but what's happened over the last few years is that it's now very easy with these new technologies to print books even one at a time. What makes a difference in (Shapero's) case is there is a lot of money involved."
Shapero, a managing partner at Crosspoint Venture Partners, a leading venture capital firm, has applied a Silicon Valley recipe to publishing: He gathered a group of imaginative, think-outside-the-box types, convinced them of his mission and launched a crusade. He describes himself as "pathologically independent."

Sitting at a conference table in the office of his new publishing house in Woodside, Shapero called his novel "a special piece of work," and said there's "a lot going on in publishing that needs to change."

He made oblique reference to the days when Walt Whitman could walk around and hand out books and said his quest is to deliver "great truths which are hidden." Hemingway accomplished this with "The Old Man and the Sea," he noted.

"I am doing this because I feel it is important to me and might be important to others," said Shapero, who is wide-eyed and boyish-looking. He said his days as a venture capitalist -- he was called a "Guru of Growth" by BusinessWeek -- are numbered. Writing is his future.

His special piece of work, as he calls "Wild Animus," has a first printing of 50,000 copies. A typical first printing for a first-time author is between 5,000 and 10,000 copies. Marketing budgets covered by traditional publishing houses hover at around $1 per copy, one-tenth of what Shapero is spending.
Shapero says that his gratification will come from readers who connect with the book. He said he worked on the story in three different periods in his life. He opted not to go through an agent or to a publisher because he wanted the work to be entirely his own.

"I wanted to preserve complete artistic control," he said.

The book is about a man's exploration of love, self, wilderness and LSD, and time spent masquerading as a ram. It begins at UC Berkeley in 1969 and heads north to Alaska.

Shapero graduated from UC Berkeley in 1970 with a degree in English literature and in more recent years took off on a 400-mile solo hike in the Alaskan wilderness. He describes his Alaskan explorations as meditations in transcendence and "a test of human endurance and the human spirit."

"It's about love and the quest for love," Shapero said of his book.

The spacious offices of his publishing house, called Too Far, were empty save for two employees. Shapero said he plans to publish books by other writers, but couldn't give specifics.

"I want to be a source of content for things that explore life's mysteries," he said. "That could be about the source of love and surrender and what surrender means. These are things that are critically important to me, much more than world affairs or the state of my bank account."

He plans to devote the next two months to promoting "Wild Animus." He promises the street theater and publicity gimmicks will continue: "We still have a few tricks up our sleeves."

His enthusiasm is untempered by some early reviews. One newspaper review stated, "After the first hundred pages, the reader will figure out that the essential elements that comprise a novel are missing."

"My objective isn't to change the world," Shapero said. "I can't reinvent our culture. But with Too Far, my objective is to publish what I find important."

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