Monthly Archives: May 2011

Meet and Greet Your Characters

Our high school senior class graduated on Sunday.  Eldest Son’s Girl Friend was among the cap and gown wearers.  After the ceremony, we attended her graduation party.

It was the first time I truly felt old.  As in meet-the-significant-other’s-parents old.  As in, this meeting could potentially impact Eldest and Girl Friend’s lives if they stayed together.  If we made a bad impression on Sunday (we might have) and these two walk the aisle in the future…well, we’ve all heard horror stories on what that looks like.

But the point isn’t whether they will tie the knot (good Lord, Eldest is only 16) or break up tomorrow.  The point is that meeting people can change the course of lives.

Yep, meeting people can change the course of lives.

As in, who your MC meets during the course of a  novel should impact your MC’s journey and the outcome of the story.  If it doesn’t, those characters have no business populating the pages.

Harsh, I know, but true.  There just isn’t enough time on paper to have superfluous meet and greets. 

How do your close encounters layer your stories?  Do the relationships your MC’s have change and grow–for better or worse–as the novel progresses?  Are you using them to your full advantage?

Curious minds want to know.

Editing: laundry style

Those of you who know me get that laundry is my nemesis.  If somebody came out with affordable, disposable clothing, I’d be the first to buy.  If I could, I would hire Dobby and pay him handsomely in socks–clean ones, not those recycled from the dog–and my life would be great.

But no, every morning it’s the same thing.  “Mom, where’s my sweatshirt?”  “Mom, I need my baseball pants.”  “Mom, I have no clean socks.”  “Mo-om.”

In my defense, most of these much-needed items are in a pile on their bedroom floors.  Floors I do not pick up to make sure I have sweatshirts and socks and baseball pants.  Floors I can’t see until my darling children scoop up armfuls of clothes which they dump, unceremoniously, into the over-flowing laundry baskets.  And expect that now–right now–their socks (minus the dog-eaten ones) and sweatshirts and baseball pants will be clean.

We do that as writers, too.  We litter our floors with little mistakes–a secondary character who goes nowhere, a plot that stops, a flat MC, dumpy dialogue–and happily keep writing, ignoring the detritus until we need, Need, NEED a clean manuscript–like a baseball shirt two hours before the big game.

Everybody has their own laundry editing methods. 

  1. Some edit as they write, changing front chapters to match twists in the second half of a manuscript.  This would be the every day washer–yeah, DH, I’m lookin’ at you.   The only drawback to this method is that sometimes we get so wrapped up editing that we never finish the story.
  2. Others wait until their WIP is done before going back and methodically sorting out the jeans from the whites, each editing pass targeting a different aspect.   While this seems like a balanced approach, it can take vast amounts of time to edit one manuscript.
  3. And still more simply scoop up the entire mess off the floor and power wash their stories all at once.  This is a fine approach that works well for some writers–for instance, those who wrote from an outline–but may feel overwhelming to others. 

I’m a wait-until-the-last-second washer, but a sort-and-edit kind of writer. 

How about you?  What works about your approach?  What doesn’t?

Now where are those baseball pants…?

Bad Dog: train the writer in you.

When Sock-dog gets caught with a Ked in her mouth, we take it away and scold her.  She cowers and slinks away–likely to look for another sock that she’s not quite so willing to give up.  What we should do is scold her WHEN she digs them out of the hamper so the punishment is linked to the behavior we want to change. 

As it is, she associates “Bad Dog.  No.  Naughty.” with giving us the sock.

Hello, yes we’ve raised other dogs, as well as four children.  It’s amazing they all don’t piddle on themselves and have more tic(k)s than a crazed coon hound running through the forest. 

Sometimes parents–and dog trainers–are just dumb about certain things.

Writers, too.

We punish, not reward.  Our consequences rarely fit the crime.  

As a writer, my biggest naughtiness is my desire to write.  I could sit with my manuscript from the second I wake up to the minute I fall asleep and be happy.  Seriously, it’s about as addictive as a tube sock is to our lab.

And so the training begins.  “Self,” I ask.  “What do you need to accomplish today?”

My answer: write, laundry, write, floors, write, work out and WRITE

“Self, what is the least pleasant of these activities?”

*hold on while I change out a load of whites*

And so I play games to reward my good behavior.

HERE’S MY SYSTEM

  •  Throw a load in, blog.
  • When the load is done washing, I will work on housework only until the buzzer announces that my laundry is dry and can be switched out–my cue to take a writing break.
  • During this laundry cycle, I will write.
  • Wash, dry, repeat until there is nothing left to do but write. 

If I don’t vac floors, cook dinner, put away laundry and shape up my tushy with a sweaty work out, I’ll hang my head and slink away when DH comes home.  The guilt will eat me up and I’ll feel crappy.  Then I’ll promise to redeem myself tomorrow by getting above list done, only to write my day away…again.  Because truly, writing is the reward and I got my fix by writing.

 It’s what makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

But I want to feel fuzzy without the guilt.  Just like Sock-dog does.  So today when she gets caught with a sock in her mouth, I’m going to praise her for giving it up, let her follow me into the laundry room where I will put the sock in the basket–deliberately in front of her.  When she leans in to sniff it–cuz that’s what dogs do–I’ll let loose my litany of “Bad dog.  No.  Naughty.”

I vow to be a better trainer from this day forth, whether I’m training my dog, my kids or myself.

I’ll try to reward the good behavior and make sure the punishment fits the crime.  That said, if you don’t see me around for a day or two,  you’ll know that I’ll be wallowing in heaps of unwashed clothes, a dog-hairy floor and a self-imposed punishment. 

How about you?  What stands in your way of writing guilt-free?  How do you plan to curb your inner, naughty-dog?

Curious minds want to know.

Dessert Disappointments: false advertising in writing

Have you ever noticed that the beautiful, glossy pics advertising scrumptious desserts rarely portray the messy, pasty, cardboardish lump the waiter plops down in front of you?

“Why,” you ask, “is it so hard to actually put whipped cream on mine and top it with a cherry instead of a whole can of chocolate Hershey ice cream sauce?”

And, “Why, oh why, does my brownie taste like left-over birthday cake that’s been frozen for a month and nuked on high?”

The answer is simple.  They could hardly advertise the truth or it would never sell.

Left-Over Birthday Cake Surprise: this frozen puck of a brownie has been over-nuked, leaving it hard and tasteless.  However, we have since drowned it in chocolate sauce to rehydrate it and added a dab of faux whipped cream for color.  And forget the cherry.  You had one in your Shirley Temple.

Query letters can also be dessert disappointments.

Writers advertise the heck out of their novels with beautiful words and promises of exciting things.  But somewhere along the way, they serve up a tasteless, cardboard lump. 

We get excited about finishing our WIP and forget that writing an enticing query letter is not enough to get our manuscripts on the bookshelves.  We must deliver what we promise.

So, the next time you’re tempted to shoot your query letter into the literary world of waiting customers, remember that you must have a product worth eating reading.

To find out if you’re ready, head over to A Steampunk Reverie.  Calista Taylor has a great list of questions to help you decide if you can deliver what you advertise.

Happy Writing!

Table Talk in Writing

Friday night Dear Hubby and I played Sequence with Eldest and a handful of his friends.  Even though the kids cheated horribly, DH and I kicked some kid butt. 

The reason, at least to my way of thinking?  The kids were so busy trying out their secret table talk that they failed to keep their heads in the game.

Writing is a bit like this.  Okay, A LOT like this. 

Just yesterday, one of my crit buddies and I chatted about how we–insert writerly name here–have the tendency to defend and explain our positions during a critique session. 

“But,” we might say to some feedback, “this is why I did it.”

Or, “I know this sounds confusing now–insert explaination–but it makes perfect sense later in the manuscript.”

Oh yeah, we are masters at defending our positions.  What we should be doing, however, is keeping our heads in the game. 

While we may have the luxury of enlightening our crit partners with extracurricular table talk, we do not have this same advantage when our readers include agents, editors and the paying public.

In the future, we may be able to insert a little chip in our digital editions that says, “Press button here to understand this section of the book.”

Until then, our manuscripts better speak for themselves.  And this means no table talk.  Because whenever we do this, we cheapen our writing and cheat our readers out of a delightful experience.

So, what do you do with critique commentary?  Have you had to pull out your cheat sheet and explain your writing to your readers, or do you just sit back and keep your head in the game? 

Excuse me? What’s your name again?

As many of you know, my Dear Hubby recently purchased a hunting dog. Her name was Sage which the entire family hated. In fact, New Dog didn’t even know her own name, she despised it so much.

We opted for Bailey. It has a nice ring while I’m standing on the driveway shouting her name across the neighborhood. “Baaaaay-leeeee! Come home, you stupid little….”

Yeah, she has other names besides Bailey.

Dumb dog.
Pain in the rear.
I-hate-you-stupid-animal.
Socks.
Sock-eater.

But only after she does something stupid. Like feed her sock addiction. Seriously, socks are like crack to her. She ferrets them out and can’t swallow them fast enough. I won’t mention what we call her when said socks pass through the digestive system onto our lawn.

Somedays we refer to both our hunting dogs as a unit.

Blanco. Because her coat contrasts nicely to our geriatric lab’s who has since earned the Spanish name el Negro after the color of her fur.

And if we’re really giddy, we lump them together as Schwarz und Weiss. DH and I both took German in highschool. Ebony and Ivory.

And then there’s Kallie. Kallie Cakes. Tubby. Chubby. Tootsie (when she lays down her legs stick out like toothpicks shoved into a tootsie roll) and Grandma Kallie. Did I mention she’s old?

Anyone listening to our family on a given day would think we have 207 dogs. Way too many to squeeze into our home. Both for sanity’s sake and space.

Novels can be that way too. When too many characters wander the pages readers get confused and can lose interest.

As writers, we must assess who we introduce to our audience, when we do so and why. If we can combine characters to make our manuscripts less crowded, readers will notice when characters piddle on the floor. Otherwise, important details may simply get lost in the chaos of having too many dogs in the house.

How many characters are essential to a good story? At what point do readers get character-overload? How do you combine and/or eliminate minor or peripheral roles in your manuscript? What’s the trick to knowing who actually needs to reside within your novel?

Digital Resumes and the Writer

My big sis called this morning.  She’s going through grad school and calls every once in a while to use me as a sounding board.  This arrangement is fine with me as long as she cuts her diploma in half and I can hang part of it on my wall.  Not to mention talking business trumps our childhood relationship when she used me as a punching bag, like all good big sisters do.

“So,” says Big Sis.  “I have to create a visual resume.”

“A what?”  Yeah, even though I’m online nearly every day and actually write a random resume or two for clients, I’d never heard of the digital resume until today.

Some online sleuthing taught me quickly that the digital resume can vary from a slide show type advertisement to a high-end, website looking page.

My brain instantly translated this to the world of writing–and sure enough, some astute writers have their digital resumes complete–and how exactly an aspiring/professional writer can utilize this technology.

So, my dear writerly friends, have you heard of visual/digital resume before?  If so, in what context?  How does this technology impact you and your potential marketing of a) you as a writer/speaker and b) your books/projects/products?

And to any peeps regardless of background: what’s the buzz in your world regarding digital resumes?  Do you think they are superior to paper?  Do explain.

Inquiring minds really, really, really want to know!

Shout Out for an Amazing Writer

As many of you know, AgentQueryConnect is my cyber home.  One of the things I love most about it is the sense of community.  During my two year residence in the AQ threads, I’ve met some great and talented writers.  Some have books due out next year, others are working hard with agents to get their writing in front of editors, while still others are busy honing their craft so they can someday enjoy the literary successes that await them.

And a few–like Robert K. Lewis–are already leaving a trail of bylines for us to follow.

Please hop on over to Criminal Element and read his thrilling, three-part Bar Noir.

Never heard of that genre?  Then don’t miss out on his great voice as he effortlessly takes you through a rundown of writers and the stories they told.

Got other great review links?  Pass them along for everyone to enjoy!

Happy Mother’s Day!

I hope your day was as relaxing and wonderful as mine.

I received a Hershey Kiss and decorated bar of soap from Middle Son and a beautifully, hand-crafted heart from Youngest. 

DH grilled shrimp, chicken kabobs and baby back ribs for dinner.

We all hung out together, shooting baskets, pulling weeds and just sharing the gorgeous day.

Life’s blessings are so small as to be overlooked, yet when they are added up, our days are nothing short of magical.

Hugs and best wishes to all the moms out there!

Cryfi and Other Writerly Musings

While commenting on a blog, I got the verification word: Cry-Fi.

It immediately struck my writer’s brain as a new genre.  Chick-litty Science Fiction.  Flippant, self-centered MCs who shop for the newest cosmic fashion while saving the universe from an impending hostile take-over by an alien race of pond scum.

And then it hit me.  I’ve seen these stories before.  Cry-Fi exists.  Not in so many words, but as writers tend to cross the traditional genre boundaries, these melting-pot stories have emerged full force.

Nobody wants their writing to be put in a box–narrowly defined by a word or two.  We want something bigger, grander.  New and cosmically cool.  Heck, we want our writing to break virgin ground.

Yet, this mentality can greatly damage our chances of ever seeing our writing in the bookstore.   Agents must define our manuscripts so they can pitch them to editors who must visualize their spot on the bookshelf.  This pitch is necessary for marketing and publicity. 

Our future books cannot simply demand a new section in the already established book stores.  Cyber or otherwise. 

Go ahead, try it.  Create a new word and google it.  It’s impossible to find because it does not exist anywhere but your own head.  This is the fate of your out-of-the-box, Cry-Fi novel.  If people don’t know about it, they can’t search for it.

So, as much as it hurts to see your manuscript pinned with a generic label or two, it is a necessary evil.  And it starts with us.  The writers.  We must give agents something tangible to pitch to editors to pitch to marketing to pitch to bookstores to pitch to readers. 

Having trouble defining where your novel fits?  Check out this handy genre list.

Got a new genre you’re pitching?  Share it with us and we’ll see if it catches on!

*Writing a series? Hop on over to From the Write Angle and see if it’s for you.