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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Enrich Your World With Re-imagined Holidays

 by Tameri Etherton


iStockphoto
Ah, Halloween. That time of year when little ghosts and goblins roam the streets looking for candy. Have you ever wondered what prompted kids to dress up in costumes for treats? I have. And why do we decorate eggs on Easter? Whats up with a Yule log, anyway?
Theres only one way to find out: Research. Dig into the customs and cultures of another time and youll discover a wealth of opportunity to expand your imagined world.
Take Halloween, for instance. The roots of our modern holiday can be traced back two thousand years to an October 31st Gaelic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-win). The festival was a celebration of summers end and the harvest. It was also one heck of a party. Bonfires were lit to mimic the sun, in hopes it would hold back the decay and darkness of winter. Or, perhaps something a little more sinister.

On Samhain night, the dark god Herne the Hunter would ride across the Autumn sky with his red-eyed hell hounds on a supernatural hunt.

I dont know about you, but that gives me chills. Just think of how you could include something like that in your novel. Take a bit of history and tweak it to fit your own story. Youll at once draw readers in because of the familiar elements, but also enrich your characters lives and world with unique touches.

You could even take a tradition like Scotlands Hogmany, otherwise known as New Years Eve and give it a paranormal twist. Whereas Christmas is peaceful and a time for quiet reflection, Hogmany is a raucous, joyous affair. Once midnight strikes, the partying quiets until the first visitor arrives. The tradition of First-Footing says that the person who crosses the homes threshold first will be the predictor of good fortune in the year ahead.

What if that first person was a vampire? Or a serial killer? Or a faerie?

Dont be afraid to mix and match holiday traditions!

Legend has it that on both Samhain and Beltane, the door between our world and that of the faeries is thinner, making it easier for spirits and faeries to enter our world. What if dark fae were to pass through unnoticed while humans were frolicking around their bonfires?

Speaking of Beltane and frolicking... if your novel needs a bit of spicing up, this is an excellent holiday to play off of. Sex, fertility, gods and goddess, a battle between light and dark, its a world building dream. Its a night where fevered passions and virgins are sacrificed to the lord of the hunt. Imagine the conflict that might arise from a mis-matched pairing.

Want something even spicier? Believe it or not, in the Czech Republic women are whipped or spanked on Easter Monday. Why? Because they believe the spankings will keep them healthy and beautiful for the whole next year.

Hey, whatever works! But I think Ill stick to beauty creams, thankyouverymuch.

Also at Easter, but a little less erotic, in Finland, Sweden, and Denmark children decorate eggs for Easter and then dress up as witches, going door to door collecting candy.

Sound familiar? Perhaps thats where the Halloween tradition came from.

You dont have to limit your world building to traditional holidays. Sporting events can enhance your plot. Im a huge fan of the Olympics, especially the winter games. In my fantasy novel I knew I wanted to have an Olympic-like event, but didnt want the games to feel too modern. My research led me to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Back in the day the Thames would freeze over and they played a sort of hockey game and also nine-pins, which is similar to modern day bowling. All of the games, including these two, were competitions with winners receiving prizes from the Queen.

With this information, I made up several sports that would fit into an epic fantasy, but that modern readers would understand.

The more we can relate our worlds to what the reader knows, the better well draw them into the story, making it a place they want to venture in forever.

Have you played off of holidays in your novels? Is there a particular holiday or tradition thats your favorite? Think youll find a way to incorporate a little corporeal punishment into your next Easter celebration?

Bio for Tameri Etherton ~

Tameri Etherton writes stories about kick ass heroines and the rogues who steal their hearts. While not writing, or researching for her latest book, she can be found in tea shops laughing with friends, reading books, or at home curled up on the couch watching movies with her family. She lives in a quaint little seaside village, and enjoys strolling on the beach with her own prince charming.

You can find her on:
 
FACEBOOK    TWITTER     WEBSITE
 
Stop on by and chat sometime!

 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Incorporating Humor into Your Writing


by Ally Broadfield 

Sociologists, anthropologists, and biologists believe that the ability of humans to laugh serves two essential life functions: to lessen tension and anxiety, and to help us bond with others. Both of these are compelling reasons to incorporate humor into your writing. As romance writers, one of our primary goals is to make an emotional connection with our readers, and the effective use of humor can go a long way toward accomplishing this. Studies have proved that laughter helps a reader focus on a story and remember it afterward. 

Many writers look to screenwriters and the three-act structure to plot our books, and we can also learn a lot about incorporating humor into our writing from screenwriters, sitcom writers, and stand up comedians.  

The K Rule
 
Ask any comedy writer and he’ll tell you that words with a hard “k” or hard “c” sound are funny. The K Rule is a useful tool for making word choices that will subconsciously or subtly amuse your readers. To confirm this, watch any great comedy movie or sitcom and you’ll discover that many of the jokes utilize a word with these sounds.

The Rule of Three
Comedic writing usually involves establishing a pattern (with the setup) and then misdirecting the reader (with the punch line). The easiest way to do this is to pair two like ideas and then add a third, incongruent, idea. We use a list of three is because studies have shown that three is the number of things people can most easily remember. “My dog’s favorite foods are bones, bacon, and furniture.”
Put the Funniest Word at the End

Humor writers always put the punchline at the end of the joke. A corollary to that rule is to put the funniest word at the end of the punchline sentence. Again, our hungry dog from above proves this. “My dog’s favorite foods are furniture, bones, and bacon” isn’t nearly as funny as it was when “furniture” was at the end of the sentence (okay, I know this example was never that funny, but you see what I mean).

Surprise

Of course we all know what a surprise is, but in comedy, it is the foundation of misdirection. To use it, you present a set of circumstances and then add an opposing twist. For example, consider this joke from stand-up comedian James Mendrinos: Last time I was around here I went hunting. I bagged a really huge deer while driving my Honda.

What If?

The most important tool to use when writing humor is your imagination. “What If” is my favorite tool, because it can be used with any type of humor. It requires you to think of something in a new way, preferably in a way none of your readers have considered. The following exercise is in Melvin Helitzer’s book, Comedy Writing Secrets: Consider two Coke bottles – what could they possibly be besides bottles? Make a list with as many possibilities as you can. Here are a few of the things he came up with: corn holders for the Jolly Green Giant, a newfangled breast implant, portable urinals, ear plugs for elephants, and spin the bottle for schizophrenics. The next time you get stuck when adding humor to your writing, try this exercise with any object around your house – it’s guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing.

The tips in this article come from a lesson in my workshop
Incorporating Humor into Your Writing
Visit my website for upcoming dates
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Ally Broadfield lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, five dogs, two cats, a rabbit, and several reptiles. Oh, and her husband.  She likes to curse in Russian and spends most of her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She writes historical romance and middle grade/young adult fantasy. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December 2013.

Learn more about Ally Broadfield at:

WEBSITE    FACEBOOK    TWITTER

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Get in Shape with TWITTER by Jordan K. Rose



This month I released my first Indie Pubbed book, The Demon Mistress, the first book of The Eva Prim Series. I’m also releasing four short stories to accompany the book, and I have another book, Black Magic Rose releasing in November.

To say I’m out of my gourd (and have been for about 12 weeks) is an understatement. It seems that for every one item crossed off my To-Do List three more are added. It’s mind-boggling.

I planned my release several months in advance. So, instead of launching the book as soon as I had it formatted I tucked it aside and prepared.

I decided what social media sites I’d use and then I worked on getting comfortable and making some nice connections on those sites. By waiting I was able to build a small, but active base of interested readers (proudly I admit these are people not related to me).

Utilizing social media is a requirement for writers who are new in their careers as well as writers who’ve already experienced success. It amazes me to hear writers talk about how they aren’t going to do it because they don’t want to, don’t have time, don’t like it. It does take away from your writing time. It does sidetrack you. It does add some complications to your work.

But it is the way of the world and if you want to be successful, if you want to connect with readers, you need to do it. There is no reason why it can’t be fun, too.

There are many options. Find the ones you like and focus on those. Just pick one or two. 

I’ve been building connections on Twitter and Facebook, using one to drive the other. I also love Pinterest, though I’ve found a need to limit my access because I forget why I’m there and end up goofing off.  

I use Twitter to drive readers to my Facebook group and my newsletter with an automated response to anyone who follows me. I thank them for the follow and invite them into the Snack of the Week Club. This is done using JustUnfollow.

In the group I talk a little bit about Eva and myself, but mainly I try to keep all the discussions focused on life, snacks, reading, movies and anything else. Of course, where appropriate I relate back to Eva.

On Twitter I mention @evaprim in tweets and discuss updates for the series, but mostly I talk about other stuff of interest to me—just like everyone else. I don’t push my books. I hate the hard sale as a consumer and as a businesswoman.

One of the things I’ve noticed about many writers using Twitter (aside from the “Buy my book” tweets) is that all their followers and many of the people they follow are other writers. Unless your goal is only to have connections with other writers this is a problem.

Yes, all writers are readers. But, let’s be honest. We can’t all buy every single book written by every writer we know. We can’t read them all. We can’t afford them all. You need followers who are readers.

It takes a little work, but you don’t need to spend more than 15 minutes a day on twitter. I spend about 20, though some days more because I enjoy it. I look for new followers while I’m on the treadmill. There have even been times when I’ve spent more time on the treadmill than intended because I was so intently tweeting. Twitter makes the treadmill not seem like hell. (It’s a wonderful diversion though don’t forget to keep walking!)

If you’re using Twitter as part of your marketing strategy, your follower list should consist mostly of readers. There are lots of readers on Twitter. Some are quiet, lurkers. Some are very active, just like Facebook users. You need to find them. Connect with them. That’s not very hard to do.

Mine the follow lists of writers in your subgenre. Follow the readers. And when they tweet to you, tweet back. Build those relationships.

Ultimately, no matter what social media you use you should enjoy it. That’s the key to success.

BOOK BLURB
 
What’s a girl to do when she discovers her husband, who happens to be the Master Vampire for the New England Region, has been lying to her for, oh, say a hundred and eighty years?

Well, it all depends. If she’s accidentally released forty demons from some creepy old book, unintentionally announced the existence of vampires on The Internet, kidnapped a werewolf, enraged a lovesick vampire by stealing his approved mate, and attracted the attention of The High Commander for The Vampire Federation, not to mention gotten stoned and mastered the forbidden art of demon calling, she might be willing to call it even.

Or, she might plead her case at an Inquisition and hope like all hell, she isn’t staked before sunrise. Eh, a slightly busier night than usual, but nothing Eva Prim can’t handle.

 
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan loves vampires. But if you know anything about Jordan, you already knew that detail. What you didn’t know was it wasn’t long ago that she began writing about them.

A few years back Jordan received a copy of Twilight from her husband as part of her anniversary gift. By the end of that week she’d read the entire series and moved onto Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Eight weeks and eighteen vampire books later the idea for her first book, Perpetual Light came to her followed very quickly by Eva Prim.

In October of 2013 The Demon Mistress, the first Eva Prim Novel is available along with four short stories. For continual updates on Eva please join the Snack Of The Week Club at www.evaprim.com.

Coming November 2013 Black Magic Rose, Book One of The Alliance Series. Join Jordan’s newsletter for updates. 

Jordan is a member of the national Romance Writers of America organization and several chapters.

When she’s not writing about one vampire or another Jordan enjoys spending time with her husband, Ken and their lovable Labrador, Dino on the beautiful beaches of New England. 
Find Jordan at:
 
WEBSITE    TWITTER     FACEBOOK    
 

 

Monday, October 21, 2013

"You Are Better Than You Know" by Rory Miller

Author Rory Miller


You’re a good writer.  You are better than you can know.  Let’s crunch some numbers.

You’ve been writing since you were six years old.  Even with no college, that is twelve years of formal training.  Is there any other thing in your life where you have twelve years of formal, expert teaching?  Anything?

And writing isn’t like martial arts, where twelve years of training may be combined with an absolute absence of experience.  You have written for real.  A lot.  Maybe not every day… but I will bet that you read every day.  Maybe you don’t have time to read as many books as you like, but I know you.  You’re a reader.  Cereal boxes.  Labels.  Advertisements. You read. Every. Damn. Day.  And reading and writing are the yin and yang of each other.

Is there any other aspect of your life where you have this combination of skill and experience?  You are good.

But here’s the problem.  You have been writing since you were six years old and almost every single thing you ever wrote was judged.  An outside authority figure who didn’t know and care how your friends belly-laughed would say it wasn’t ‘literary’ or ‘concise’ or ‘choose-your-word’.  And you would get a ‘C’.  Or a ‘B’.  Or an ‘A’ or an ‘F’ but it really didn’t matter.  What mattered is that we were taught, as children, that writing was hard, and judged by secret criteria we could never grasp.  No matter how good we are, all of us were taught we sucked, and it is simply safer not to risk.

If you look at your unfinished manuscript right now, you will hear the voices in your head telling you to give up, that it is not good enough.  Shoot those voices.

Let me tell you a story:

A couple of years ago, a special friend got into some medical bills.  Our circle of friends did what we could, but I suggested we put together a book so that there would be a constant trickle of income.  Problem with making a suggestion like that is that it becomes your baby.  I was named editor.

I call these special friends not because of some weird sexual relationship or because we all rode the short bus together.  This particular circle of friends shared some common history that most people really can’t grasp—former cops and former criminal, operators, EMT’s and patients, we hang out together so that we can tell our stories around the campfire with people who won’t have nightmares (or vomit.)  It’s a tight bond, and an exclusive club.  And a great source for stories.

The first thing I noticed was the insecurity.  Messages would come in that were the e-mail equivalent of, “Mr. Editor, sir,” Head bowed and wringing a hat in his hands, “I have an idea and you probably won’t like it…”

Get this—these were people who had survived mental hospitals, escaped cults and abusive relationships, and hospitalized your worst nightmare.  Bad-asses of the nth degree.  And they were so insecure about their writing that they requested permission to give me a gift with all the subservience of a slave in “Gone With The Wind.”

So I’d say, “Hell, yeah, let me see it.”  And a couple couldn’t even do that.  They sent no manuscript and no more e-mails.

But others did, and every last one was good.  They didn’t use prose like Nelson Algren (who does?  That’s why he’s Nelson Algren and not John Keats or Kristine Kathryn Rusch.)  Some were linear and some were scatter shot.  One was simply a list, a list of things you must do to escape an abuser and that list is possibly the most chilling thing in the book.

So I would send back an email that said something like, “That’s fantastic, thank you!”

And every single one sent back a message saying, “Oh, no.  That wasn’t the real manuscript.  That’s just a rough draft.  Here’s the real manuscript.”

These bad-asses, people who had been a gaijin in a Japanese prison or practiced martial arts in Antarctica or trained counter-terrorism had sent me a draft so that if I rejected it, I wasn’t rejecting them.  “It was just a draft, just a rough outline, really…”  Insecurity.

Here’s the part you need to hear: In every single case (including the case where the author had his retired news-editor wife help with the re-write) the second draft they sent me was weaker.  The first draft they were passionate people communicating about something they loved or feared.  It had passion and clarity.

In the second draft, they were trying to be writers.  Whatever that means.  I suspect that each and every one was trying to make a dimly remembered third grade teacher happy.

Go get four glasses of wine and bring them back to the computer.  Go ahead, you’re writers.  One of the job perks is to be able to sit in your underwear while drinking wine and still generate income.  Got the wine?  Good.  Not hard, right?  I mean, four glasses is tough, but it’s just about moving wine.

Now get four glasses of wine and do it like a circus performer.  Go on.  Come on back and finish this article when something breaks.  It’ll only be a few seconds.

Delivering wine is easy.  Delivering wine like a performance artist is hard.  Writing is easy.  It is just communication, just telling a story—and you are good at it.  Writing like it is some kind of performance art, trying to be a writer instead of just telling a story—that’s not only hard, it has a tendency to ruin the story.

Write.  Just write.  If you really, really care your passion will come through and it will be good.  If you don’t care at all, you will be lazy and efficient and your writing will be clear.  And that’s good too.  But if you try to ‘be a writer’ and either put clarity into your passions or passion into your clarity, or if you try to please your long-dead third grade teacher (and what the hell did she ever write, anyway?) you will ruin it.

You’re good at this.  Put your butt in your chair and fill some pages.  Have fun.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rory Miller is a veteran Corrections Officer who has worked as a mental health specialist; Tactical team member and leader; sergeant and instructor as well as spending over a year as a contractor in Iraq. He is the author of the award-winning "Force Decisions" as well as "Meditations on Violence" 
"Facing Violence" and "Violence: A Writer's Guide." Though he is reluctantly on FaceBook (For now) he does not tweet.  Or text. There is a blog, though, and a website, since he travels all over teaching people about bad guys.
 
BLOG     FACEBOOK     WEBSITE
 


I hope you will join my class titled
INTRODUCTION TO VIOLENCE
Hosted by
Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers
This Four Week class starts November 4th
For more information click HERE

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How Garden Design Influenced a Pantser


by Dawn Marie Hamilton

One of my favorite pastimes is gardening. In the past, I most often approached planting as I do writing—as a pantser. Stick a plant here. Tuck another one there. No specific plan. That was until I decided to plant a shade garden from scratch. This required forethought—planning.

Yikes! I needed to make a garden plan?

Okay. I can do this.

Once I had my research assembled—garden books, magazines, plant catalogues—out came the grid paper, sharp pencil, and circle template.

The completed design would be installed along the back fence of my property. Each circle on the plan represented a specific plant identified by a unique number. A list of the required plants and their bloom times was presented below the garden drawing.

If I had felt especially creative, I could have used colored pencils to represent plant colors and shaded the circles. I probably should have, but as with writing, I’m always in a hurry to proceed.

What does this have to do with writing a novel? After completing my first book without preplanning, then having to perform multiple rewrites, I decided to do at least a minimum amount of planning with the second book. I think it paid off. Sea Panther was a 2013 Golden Heart® finalist.


As with the previous story, I started the process of writing Sea Panther with research, but this time, I assembled the miscellaneous bits and pieces in a three-ring binder. Then I started writing to get a feel for the characters. After the first several chapters were complete as a rough draft, I created an overall outline for the story and a conflict chart for the main characters.

Circles—just like with the garden plan. I learned about the conflict chart during a workshop presented by Laurie Sanders. It includes the hero and heroine’s strengths and weaknesses, what attracts them, and what causes conflict.

As with drawing the garden plan, I used a grid to create a storyboard from the outline. Using a thick, 30 by 20 poster board divided into twenty-four squares with each square representing a chapter, I recorded the premise for each chapter on a yellow sticky and stuck them to the board. As the story unfolded in my mind, stickies were added—a different color for each POV and/or plot thread. With stickies, I could easily move scenes around on the board as the story progressed. I also could locate when too much of one POV was used and find plot holes.

This method worked for me. What works for you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What is your process?

Blurb for Dawn Marie’s most recent book, Just Once in a Verra Blue Moon:

What happens when a twenty-first century business executive is expected to fulfill a prophecy given at the birth of a sixteenth-century seer? Of course, he must raise his sword in her defense.

Believing women only want him for his wealth, Finn MacIntyre doesn't trust any woman to love him. When, during Scottish Highland games, faerie magic sends him back in time to avenge the brutal abduction of his time-traveling cousin, he learns he's the subject of a fae prophecy.

Elspeth MacLachlan, the beloved clan seer, is betrothed to a man she dislikes and dreams of the man prophesized at her birth, only to find him in the most unexpected place—face down in the mud.

With the help of fae allies, they must overcome the treachery set to destroy them to claim a love that
transcends time.

About Dawn Marie:

Dawn Marie Hamilton dares you to dream. She is a 2013 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist who pens Scottish-inspired fantasy and paranormal romance. Some of her tales are rife with mischief-making faeries, brownies, and other fae creatures. More tormented souls—shape shifters, vampires, and maybe a zombie or two—stalk across the pages of other stories. She is a member of The Golden Network, Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal, Celtic Hearts, and From the Heart chapters of RWA. When not writing, she’s cooking, gardening, or paddling the local creeks of Southern Maryland with her husband.

You can find Dawn Marie hanging out at…

BLOG  FACEBOOK  TWITTER  GOODREADS   
 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Interview with SAMHAIN Editor Holly Atkinson

Editor Holly Atkinson
FF&P Member, Nancy Lee Badger, invited Holly Atkinson, an editor with SAMHAIN Publishing, to give our readers a new perspective from the other side.
Please tell our readers a little bit about you, such as why did you become an editor?
I became an editor almost by accident, actually, which is strange considering how much I wanted to be one. When I was in college, all of my critiques for creative writing classes were extensive and somewhat brutal. I was exposed to Track Changes on MS Word in my fandom days, when I exchanged fanfic notes with fellow Buffy-writers.

As I said, my dream job was always editing. People would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’d waffle with what I thought were more realistic answers, but when I allowed myself to fantasize, my answer was always the same. Some people shoot for movie stardom, some for athletics—I just wanted to edit books and spend my days reading.

I debuted in the publishing world in 2009 or 2010, and after a while, decided to look for editing positions. My first editing gig came from Lyrical Press, where I served as a line editor. I next worked at Mundania Press as a content editor. After a couple years, I applied for a position with Samhain, and the rest is history.

Describe the genre of the most recent release, and is this the only genre you represent?

I believe the most recent release was in the urban fantasy genre, and I know I have another coming up. I do love urban fantasy, but it’s not my only genre. My authors write contemporary, fairytales, paranormal, BDSM, post-apocalyptic, science fiction, historical and fantasy. The only requirement, as far as I’m concerned, is to tell a good story. I have preferred genres, but I do like taking a break from those and sampling what else is out there.

What is your weekly routine like?

I am a copywriter by day and an editor by night, so my weekly routine can be a little hectic. From 8-5, I work at a local advertising agency and write content for blogs, websites, print media, television, radio spots, and so on. Before work, during breaks, and over lunch, I check my editor email, chat with authors, squeeze in edits, read submissions, and do the administrative paper-pushing. When I get home, I answer author emails, do my best to meet self-set edit goals, and then read until bedtime. Over the weekend I focus almost entirely on edits and submission reading.

What do you see ahead in your career?

I would like to transition to editing full-time. This is my five-year goal. Working with authors and helping bring their vision to life is incredibly fulfilling.

Will you share some encouraging words for authors still struggling for that first contract?

Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep submitting. If you receive a rejection, try to distance yourself from the manuscript. Have a friend—one who’s not afraid of hurting your feelings—read it and listen to what they have to say. Demand brutal honesty, and don’t shy when you get it. You’re not going to agree with every piece of advice you receive, but you have to allow yourself to take some lumps to make your manuscript better.

Critique groups cannot be overvalued. Online communities are fantastic, but check for local groups where you can meet and discuss ongoing writing projects with regional authors.

How can our readers find your submission guidelines?

The submission guidelines are available on the Samhain website: http://www.samhainpublishing.com/submissions/




BIO:

Since she can remember, Holly Atkinson's professional ambition has revolved around fiction editing. She was fortunate to receive her first taste in editing when she was thirteen and wrote copy for a local realtor show. In 2008, Holly graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor’s in English, specializing in Creative Writing. Her first real job in the literary world came in the role of line editor for Lyrical Press. In 2011, she joined Mundania Press as a content editor and finally landed her dream job at Samhain Publishing in 2012. 

Holly describes herself as the quintessential book nerd. In her spare time, she writes erotic romance under a penname, though she hopes to produce more mainstream works in the future so the more conservative members of her family can read her work. She lives in Missouri with her husband, loves to travel, and goes a little crazy around the holidays. Her largest writing influences include Pamela Smith Hill, Aaron Sorkin, JK Rowling, Stephen King, and Joss Whedon.


Thank you, Holly, for the great insight.

Readers: Feel free to leave comments or questions.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

10 RED FLAG WORDS by Catherine E. McLean


Likely you've heard that a writer's goal is to place the correct words onto the page so the reader sees a story unfold like a movie in their mind. In that quest, one trick-of-the-trade is to do a global search for "red flag" words like WAS, WERE, AS, AND, BUT, IT, HAD, JUST, ONLY, and SO. Let's look at why those little words merit the red-flag label.

At the top of every writer's revision cheat sheet should be the dynamite-dangerous WAS and WERE. These two seem to be everywhere in a manuscript. They can pepper a page by themselves, be found in clusters (called "crops of"), and when they are used together, one following the other, they become powder kegs that diminish clarity.

Yes, overuse is a big problem for both, but what constitutes overuse?  From research and from feedback by participants in my workshops, I have gathered WAS statistics. The all-time record holder for the overuse of WAS is one every fifteen words (which equals one every sentence—and, to be honest, that writer's longer sentences had two or three WASes in them).

Now, do the math: 1 in 15 means 6,667 WASes in a 100,000 word manuscript. On a subconscious level, a reader hears all those WASes. At what point do those WASes accumulate and buzz like a hive of angry bees? Which means, subliminal irritation develops and that potential of a five-star story ends up with a one-star. That is, if the reader makes it to the end of the story.

So how many WASes should be used? Some, including me, would adamantly shout the fewer the better. But I'll add that much depends on the narrative. If a character is the sole narrator, then that's dialogue both internal and spoken, so the "rules" of grammar and punctuation don't necessarily apply. After all, a character must be true to their voice and syntax.

But there's more. WAS and WERE are passive verbs. If WAS or WERE are coupled with an "ing" or "ly" ending word, or both, that's a red flag for a passive sentence. Passivity is the chronic weakness of omniscient narratives and "telling" because passivity robs a reader of emotional highs, lows, and instantaneous vividness. For example: The Doberman was quickly chewing through the rope.

Some might say to change "was quickly chewing" to the active-voiced "chewed." But a better choice might be gnawed or chomped. In other words, is there a better verb, a one-word verb, that instantly creates the correct image in the reader's mind for how the dog "was quickly chewing?"

So, it's best to do a search-and-find and check every WAS and WERE, making certain each is the only word that will do at that particular spot.

Next on the list, and second in importance and overuse is the word AS.

AS is trouble with a capital T. My dictionary lists nine definitions. That's nine chances to make an error. Of those nine, the following are giant red flags.

Number one is that AS means "at the same time" (simultaneously). Trouble is, nothing happens simultaneously in a story. That's because a person is reading, and in order to keep the images developing vividly and clearly—which means the action flows like a movie in the reader's mind—every word has to be the correct one in the correct sequence.

The second culprit is an AS-clause that either leads a sentence or is found near the end of a sentence. Here's an example of a lead-in: As John walked into the bar, he spotted Sam. This shouts simultaneousness but since nothing is simultaneous for the reader who is reading, that AS should be changed to show the actions in their sequence: After John walked into the bar, he looked around, and spotted Sam.

Now comes the most AS-clause abuse: an AS-clause near the end of a sentence. Nine times out of ten, finding one means the cause-effect has been reversed. For example: The feeling of foreboding grew stronger as he drove through the countryside. Better is: As he drove through the countryside, the feeling of foreboding grew stronger.

The next two red-flag words are AND and BUT. I think the hardest habit for a writer to break is to stop using AND and BUT at the beginning of a sentence. Another serious overuse problem is using AND and BUT to join sentences, series, and clauses. The result is awkward, long-winded, and run-on sentences.

Next on the red-flag hit-list is IT. Especially when IT is used as a pronoun. Remember that a pronoun refers to the last used noun. So, for clarity's sake, repeat the noun rather than have it become amusing text. Here's an example: The wind numbed his face and ruffled his hair as it blew off the chilly ocean. Did his hair blow off the ocean? Did you spot the AS-clause? Did you realize this is also a revered cause-effect sequence? Amazing, isn't it, how two little red-flag words can muck up the visual for the reader and jar them out of the story.

Another red-flag use of IT is as a contraction or possessive. IT'S means only one thing—"it is." Keep in mind that IT'S is never a possessive. If writing the possessive form, use "its." So, it's a wise writer who does a self-edit for it, its, and it's.

Next on the list is HAD. Think of this ditty every time you type the word: "HAD is a handicap." HAD handicaps by its overuse. Yes, it's a very good choice for getting from the story present into the story past and then out of the flashback scene and into the story now. Trouble is, between entering and exiting the flashback, that scene should be written as if it were actually  happening.

The next three, JUST, ONLY, and SO are overused "weasel words" (words taking up space without adding anything to the passage). Such words could easily be deleted. However, there are exceptions. First, if JUST, ONLY, and SO are part of the narrative character's usual dialogue, diction, and syntax, they can remain—provided they don't pepper a page. The second exception is if the words serves as a transition. It might help if you recite a litany of "weasel words weaken prose."

Now that you are aware of the dangers of these ten red-flag words, it's time you did a safety-inspection of your own writing. Take ten pages or a chapter or a scene and make a note of the word count. Now, chose one of the red-flag words—WAS, WERE, AS, AND, BUT, IT, HAD, JUST, ONLY, and SO—and do a search for that word. How many did you find? What is the ratio of the chosen red-flag word to the total word count? (And, yes, I'd love to hear what your statistics are!)

I know self-editing is hard, but eliminating such red-flag words helps net a manuscript that a reader can visual like a movie in their mind—and you'll become a better wordsmith and writer.


More About the Author 

Catherine E. McLean welcomes questions on the devices and techniques of fiction. She's an author, workshop speaker, and writing instructor. Her next online workshop is "Revision Boot Camp," January 13-31, 2014 (details are at www.WritersCheatSheets.com ). Catherine's been published in both short story and novel length. She's coined the term "Women's Starscape Fiction" for her writing because she likes a story where characters are real people facing real dilemmas, and where their journey (their adventure-quest, with or without a romance) is among the stars and solar systems, and where there's always a satisfying ending. Her home website is www.CatherineEmclean.com.

 

Monday, October 7, 2013

QUEEN OF THIEVES by Alethea Kontis


Into everyone's life must come a Dirty Rotten Scoundrel...and not the sexy kind.
 
Male or female, this innately selfish, borderline (or fully) psychopathic person is placed into our sphere by the universe because we need to learn a lesson the hard way. With luck, you've moved on and this person is no longer in your life, but what you learned will stay with you forever.

My Dirty Rotten Scoundrel taught me how to steal.

He was a writer, this jerkface, and a year of my own productivity was sacrificed to editing page after page of his drivel-filled documents. So blinded was I by the grand delusion of true love that I thought every phrase the pillock uttered was pure genius...despite the fact that he ultimately seemed to be telling the same tale again and again. I cherished the way he snuck in lines from his favorite songs or references to his favorite authors, some long since dead and gone and some not. My blissfully ignorant heart was sure he left them all in for me, these secret coded messages of our love scattered like breadcrumbs between the lines.

In reality, he was just stealing all this stuff and making it his own. Because he could. And his publishers never said a word.

One of the biggest challenges I faced when starting out as a baby-writer (literally--I was eight) was coming up with ideas that were NEW, stories that had never been told before. I never had any formal creative writing education, so I was not aware that there was no such thing as a "new" story, just my unique interpretation of events. I spent the first twenty-something years of my life forcing myself to think so far outside the box that I was in a different galaxy.

What I should have been doing was learning how to steal. Because the line between "plagiarism" and "homage" is a fine one...and one you need to become familiar with if you want to make writing your profession.

Many baby-writers start out writing fan fiction. I think this is a really great exercise that gives the writer a chance to find his/her voice without having to spend excess amounts of energy also creating a new universe.  Eventually, the writer learns enough to know what elements to change to separate it from the original intellectual property...or it organically changes so much on its own that it no longer resembles the Game of Twilight Wars universe on which it was originally based.

Coming at this line from the opposite direction is a lot more difficult because it feels SO MUCH LIKE STEALING. It leaves you feeling immoral and unjust and with the desperate need to take a hot shower and report yourself to the authorities. But you must force yourself to become comfortable enough inside your hand-me-downs to make them your own.

In my first published book, I retold the alphabet.

(If you're gonna start somewhere, go big or go home, right?)

In my teen novels, I retell the classic Grimm and Andersen (and a few others') fairy tales. I don't regurgitate the exact same sequence of events--though as they're public domain, I suppose I could. I prefer, instead, to fill in the blanks I feel the original authors left. Who was Henry, the beloved manservant of The Frog Prince? Where did Snow White obtain those iron shoes? Was Cinderella truly despised by her stepfamily, or was she just a lazy slob who refused to clean her room?

This is not plagiarism. These are my stories...new stories told to a new audience in a new millennium...but they are not original. They are the stolen bits I have collected to create my found art objects. I love them for what they are made of, and I love them for what they have become.

And, really, I owe it all to some no-count bastard.

Thanks, slimeball.

Bio: New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a goddess, a force of nature, and a mess. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, turning garden gnomes into mad scientists, and making sense out of fairy tales.

Alethea is the co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter Companion, and penned the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines. She has done multiple collaborations with Eisner winning artist J.K. Lee, including The Wonderland Alphabet and Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome. Her debut YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012 and was nominated for both the Andre Norton Award and the Audie Award in 2013. Hero, the sequel to Enchanted, released on October 1st. 
Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea now lives in Northern Virginia with her Fairy Godfamily. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.
You can find Princess Alethea online at: www.aletheakontis.com.
Links:
How to pronounce "Alethea Kontis: -- http://www.teachingbooks.net/pronounce.cgi?aid=18395
WEBSITE     FACEBOOK     TWITTER
 
 


 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"God as my witness, I want to be like that again."


by Jodi Henley
Motivation doesn’t always need to be explained. The existence of motivation works to hold your story on the straight and narrow. When you choose an event as your character’s motivation you set into motion a thousand later choices. The best way to picture it would be to think of a family tree. Each family tree starts with one set of people, and those people have children, who later have children.

There are a lot of branches that all start from the same point. Who you choose to follow to the present time (the end of your story) determines your path. You can’t skip from Janey on the left side of the chart to Paul on the far right without backtracking to a point where you “can” cross over. However, you “can” make a huge number of choices within your predetermined line of descent. If Janey has eight kids, any one of those kids can be followed to the next generation, and any one of her children’s kids can be followed to the generation after that. The story is level because you “can’t” make a choice that isn’t contained by Janey’s bloodline without creating believability issues or going back to the original pair to make another choice (picking different motivation).
The choice is important, and so is your character’s “emotional reaction” to that choice.
In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett’s motivation (for the second half) happens when she vows she’ll never be hungry again. Mitchell could have simply chosen to have a lady drive past in her fine carriage. Scarlett, trudging along in the dirt, looks up and says, “I want to be like that again!”

Even with the exclamation point, the “umphf” simply isn’t there. It’s a workable choice. Scarlett was a fine lady; she had a nice carriage, she hates being poor. It’s okay. But, both the magnitude of the event that drives her motivation and Scarlett’s reaction to the event create a different set of probable story choices.

There’s a huge, huge difference between, “God as my witness, I will NEVER be hungry again!” and “I want to be like that again!”

Watch Scarlett's Reaction HERE

One is the carpenter’s level for the story of a woman rushing headlong to destruction, and the other is the nice story of a woman who’ll try her darnedest to rise to a comfortable position, and will probably discover the value of friendship and working with others.

Did the directors need to show Scarlett’s motivation for part two?

It’s a highlight of the movie, and a great piece of drama, but it doesn’t need to be shown if there’s a break in the continuity so the reader understands “something happened” that changed Scarlett or it happens before the story starts. Characters don’t exist in a vacuum. Something happened to make your character the way he or she is. Showing motivation is a voice issue which comes out of the choices you make in how you write your story.

Even without Scarlett’s defining scene, knowing what it is, how it impacted her, and how it predetermines her later choices keeps the story on track. Your character’s motivation might be invisible, but the story that flows out of your choice works to keep it moving in the direction you want.

More About the Author

Jodi Henley is a developmental editor based in the Seattle area. Highly sought after for her ability to handle difficult or unusual character-driven stories, Jodi is a craft of writing geek. Her obsessive Myer-Briggs INTJ personality drives her to explain her findings, and she considers herself lucky to have a receptive audience. A long-time blogger and workshop presenter, her book, Practical Emotional Structure is a fixture on the top hundred Amazon writing skills bestseller list.

Find out more about the author:  BLOG   FACEBOOK

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STORY DOCTORING
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