Naming Your Characters

I'm sure every writer has stories about this. For some, naming characters aren't important, for others, it's vital. I'm in the latter category.

I write fantasy and fantasy romance and have wended my way (so far) through four series, two are finished, two are continuing.

In the "Heart" series (the "Heart" books because they all have "Heart" in the title – and, yes, I'll talk about the joys of that some other time), I have a rigid naming system. Those books are fantasy romance set on a planet colonized by psychic Earth people who formed a Celtic society. Most of them are based on plant names, either common names or scientific. The favorite Familiar animal companion, Zanth, is short for Zanthoxyl, for instance. I will throw in the occasional Gaelic and Welsh names for things other than people (and have real fun with geographical place names), but I stick close to my rules, and some of my readers would be horrified if I diverged from that.

In my other current series, the Ghost Seer series, I am writing about contemporary Denver and ghosts of the Old West. My heroine is Clare – spelled Clare instead of Claire deliberately. She's a rational accountant and does see clearly. But she inherits a fortune and a psychic gift for seeing ghosts and helping them pass on. So she sees clearly in that way, too. As for my hero, Zach, well, I wanted a name sounding close to "Jack" for the set up of the first meeting of the hero and heroine. And I like the name, it was time to have a Zach hero. As for his surname – Slade – it's the same as the gunslinger ghost in my first book, deliberately.

So I spend time, perhaps too much time, thinking about my character names, and there are considerations you, as a writer, should take into account.

For instance, I once had a hero named Race, then realized that a previous hero would have a large secondary role, Raz. Race and Raz. No.

Because no matter how interesting it is for you to have, say, identical twins with close names (Rica and Rona), you do NOT want to confuse your reader. The minute you have the reader thinking, wait, is that the medical doctor or the physical therapist? you've pulled your reader from the story. And when you pull the reader away from your story, it's easier for them to close the book.

About Race, as I recall, Race was the second or third name I'd tried for this guy. He's an adventurer and I wanted something that sounded "slick" and easy to the ear, and felt the ace sound did this (the standard advice for a romance hero is a short name with a hard consonant – like Zach). Race became Jace, and I was finally happy with the name, it fit the character.

I'm sure we've all run across the character who insists on a name, and that can be tough if it doesn't match reader expectations (like Wendell for a romance hero). The only advice I can give you on this is to put the story away (if you can) for a while until you detach from the character. That might work.

As for me, I wanted a heroine named Brandy, and was nixed by my editor on that one (this was the Summoning series), and after long thought she became Marian. But I think she'd have been a little more daring if she'd had the name Brandy.

So names do matter. To you, your readers, and, yes, they can hint at attributes of your characters.

May all your writing dreams come true,


The Artist’s Way, Still Relevant After All These Years

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is the best path I have found for learning to create more freely. Essentially, how to unblock your creativity and keep it clear. There are highly effective tools that will help you recover your creativity from a variety of blocks including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions and other inhibiting forces. Replacing such negative blocks with artistic confidence and productivity.

I've followed The Artist's Way about 3-4 times over my writing career, both before and after I sold. I've also done about the same number of workshops on the material.

The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron
The first time I worked through The Artist's Way, a "Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self," as the book called itself, about one week in a month over a period of approximately three years. This is a twelve week course. So, I didn't think I'd been that diligent. Then I hauled out my book.

It's lower right corners are ratty, some pages have suspicious brown (tea/chocolate) and red (papercut blood/spaghetti) stains. The thing is highlighted in pink, orange, yellow, green and purple (I don't know where my blue was). There are Robin-made tabs for such pages as: Basic Principals, Rules Of The Road, Creative Affirmation, An Artist's Prayer, and my personal favorite, Dealing With Criticism. Scribbled notes and the occasional terrible drawing (requested by chapter "tasks"), sprawl all over the pages with asterisks and arrows and brackets.

I looked at the book, and just the state it was in showed that I had worked through the course and it had made a difference. Most importantly, at the beginning of the course, I was writing books I enjoyed and thought I could market. In the end, I had found my true voice and was writing books of my heart.

Elements of The Artist's Way: Morning Pages
I hated the idea of morning pages, writing three full 8 ½ x 11 pages every day, freewriting, scribbling words, any words, across the paper and keeping the pen moving. IN THE MORNING. Three pages, because Cameron believes that whatever is really on your mind won't dribble out until after 1 ½ and it takes another 1 ½ to deal with it. True for me, in the beginning, later I got so I spilled my guts from line one. Nobody reads your morning pages, not even you, until week 9.

I don't do any scheduled task (except feed cats, which is simple self-defense) in the morning. So, they became evening pages or lunch pages for me the first time around. When I became a full time writer, they became true Morning Pages. And they worked. They cleaned out my brain of all my petty (or huge) concerns of the day so I could write. They cut down on my whining to friends. They observed the seasons. True, sometimes in my pages I filled up three lines with: "Love, love, love...." But that's not so bad either, is it?

Since I dreaded doing the pages so much, as I went along, I marked the other reasons Cameron gave for consistent daily pages (paraphrases and direct quotes):

  1. Morning pages help us stop taking our negative Censor (Inner Critic) as the voice of reason and learn to hear it for the blocking device that it is.
  2.  Morning pages get us to the other side of our fear, negativity, moods.
  3.  Other writing seems to suddenly be far more free and expansive and easier.
  4. Processes extreme emotions and leads to clarity (sometimes painful).
  5. We identify ourselves. We learn what we want and ultimately become willing to make the changes needed to get it.
  6. Points the way to reality: this is how you're feeling; what do you make of that?
  7. Loosens our hold on fixed opinions and short-sighted views. We see that our moods, views, and insights are transitory. We acquire a sense of movement, a current of change in our lives.
  8. We treat ourselves more gently. Feeling less desperate, we are less harsh with ourselves and with others.
  9. Morning pages end dry spells, doing the pages means we have not collapsed to the floor of our despair and refused to move on. We have doubted, yes, but we have moved on.
  10. Morning pages are meditation, a practice that brings us to our creativity and our Creator.

Artist's Date: The artist's date can be summed up in one word: Play. Or two: Pamper Yourself. Your artist is a creative child, so spend an hour once a week to fulfill it: roll down a hill, take a train ride, dance, swing, color in a book or arrange stickers, doodle. And do it BY YOURSELF.

I must admit, this was the portion of the course that I followed the least. When I started the Artist's Way I lived by myself and was used to pleasing myself. The date became more important when I had a roommate, but I rarely formalized it. On the other hand, now that I think about it, I currently have this daily journal...and developed a passion for stickers...and I've bought 4 sets of those new metallic ink pens (the ink is archive quality, but one set was a gift for my 5 year old niece)....

Tasks: Chapter exercises. These are what hooked me. One in the first chapter blew my mind open. I wrote one of the creative affirmations: "I am allowed to nurture my artist," 10 times. Sure enough, my Censor popped up while doing this: "You have so many other things to do. Your house isn't clean, your bills aren't paid. You aren't a responsible person." I listened and analyzed. Where did this come from? And found out that Censor sounded like my parents (particularly my father) and the basic idea that the critic was getting across to me, and which I truly believed, was: "You can't do what you want to do; you must do what we want you to do." With a corollary: "What you want to do is foolish and stupid and a waste of time and will never amount to anything. What others want you to do is always more important." Wow! Hooked. Try it for yourself.

Warning: Week 4, Reading Deprivation: No READING, no TV, movies, radio. This is horrible, but it works, too. It was several years ago (the week Jon Benet Ramsey was killed, and I never caught up), and was one of the most intensely creative times of my life. I was also more observant of the people and little dramas around me. The pressure to tell myself stories forced me to write and write and write. I still remember how incredible it felt -- like a dam breaking open and all this writing pouring out of me in a rush. Very heady.

Still, I only lasted 5 days, and congratulated myself that I made it that long. I got desperate. on the evening bus, I found myself looking over the shoulder of my seatmate who was reading an article called "The Guide to Effective Deworming." (This is a true story.) She must have been a vet student or something, and heroine material (I was supposed to be observant on the bus, Chapter 4 said so). Youngish -- mid-twenties -- red-brown hair, but not as dark as chestnut; creamy complexion with a sprinkling of freckles; small, straight nose. Very nice. Much more interesting than the pictures of horses with strange tubelike objects in their mouths. Ok, so I maybe glanced at the article. I didn't read it. I just looked at the pictures. After all, anyone would be interested in -- ah -- forget it. Anyway, my seatmate finished reading that particularly fascinating article and flipped onto the next. Did I mention that these were photocopied sheets, not a real magazine, and the print and photos were slightly fuzzy?

The next article. From "In the Barn." "Mounting Blocks." Temptation. Really. I was writing historical romance. I've even written about mounting blocks. I need to research them. Words jumped out at me: "old tree stump, overturned bucket," "new portable mounting blocks for easy transportation". There were pictures, too, but not as interesting as horses. My heroine wasn't riveted by the article. She scanned it and went to the next. "Metabolic Disease, Test Treatments." No pictures. I sighed with relief. I was saved.

I wanted to talk about keeping compliments, making an image of your Censor, doing a collage, or listing secret passions, but this article is now overlong. But it was fascinating to read some of the quotes in The Artist's Way, and look at the highlighted wisdom and my own words. Maybe it's time to start up again....

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Non-Human Characters

Birds and beasts, werewolves and vampires, fairies and trolls, rakshasas and dragons and inari okami (and did you think of a western European dragon or a Chinese dragon)? Aliens. Some or all of these can populate your work . . . for good or ill.

Liesa Malik and I will be talking about writing non-human characters at the Colorado Gold Conference, so this post is short because it's a teaser to come to that workshop and I want to invite you to come and talk to us about YOUR non-human characters and brainstorm with us.

I have spent my career writing non-human characters – everything from a mole (yes, a mole, the earth-digging-nearly-blind animal) to a planet (actually two planets, one of them Earth). My Heart series – futuristic/fantasy set in a Celtic pagan culture – features telepathic animal companions and has since the first book. In fact, I think the cat character in that book, Zanth, sold HeartMate.

Since then, I've written a slew of animal companions including (of course) a puppy and dogs, cats of various colors and attitudes, and have branched out to foxes, raccoons and most recently birds, a hawk and a raven.

I do my homework on the animals, how they live, their social structures, what they eat, how they might think. I want my readers to believe these animals are not just humans in disguise. And Liesa and I will talk about how to do that research, hands-on and otherwise.

Unlike many people writing urban fantasy and/or paranormal romance, I've only written one shapeshifter hero – a jaguar-man – and absolutely no vampires. Though since I write in those genres I've read a lot of books on both. I know what I, personally, like in a vampire and werewolf, and how the myths have been explored by various authors.

So, we'll add in shapeshifters and vampires as common characters – both as good guys and as monsters that can highlight your very human characters.

And Liesa, especially, has studied the market for writing animals, and the fantasy genre is full of variety, and in science fiction humans continue to interact with alien races.

Yes, we do have peeves about how animals and monsters are portrayed, don't you? Come share those with us.

And, yes, I also write ghosts, mostly of people of the Old West, but I consider those humans . . . except the evil one . . . oh, and the Labrador spirit guide. No, neither of those are human . . . .

So drop by and talk with us about your non-human characters and why you love them. And what makes them different. Or how you want to delve into a different psyche.

See you at the Colorado Gold!

Endings and Endings Problems:

By Robin D. Owens

Endings are extremely important. You want the reader to be satisfied, more, to remember that you gave them a good finish and look forward to your next book.

Here are some problems I, as a reader and writer, find in endings:

I had a favorite author (male writing under a female pseudonym) whose work I loved . . . until the end. Many of his/her books felt like s/he just didn't care past a certain point, or had left this particular project until late (the romances) and had to rush. Deeply unsatisfying.

So rushing pace can be a problem.

Or abrupt endings. I have a writer friend who likes to read endings with an emotional wrap-up, even as she tends to write until the action is done and stops.

Or a slow and lingering pace. The hero and heroine have solved the crime, saved the world, fallen in love, and you spend two more extraneous chapters describing how happy they and their friends and everyone else is.

Point of view. I have had books with only hero's and heroine's point of view . . . then, rather like a long camera pan in a film, the point of view changes to omniscient. This bugs me.

For example, I read a treasure hunt romance about a lost pearl (object has been changed). The hero and heroine kiss and go off to bed. The last line went something like: And in the moonlight the pearl softly gleamed. (What?)

Cliffhangers and Setting Up a Series

I would say that unless your next book will is out or will be published within, say, a week, don't do this. It irritates folks that the protagonist remains in danger, or hasn't solved the crime, or the love interest has died/left/been dumped.

A critique buddy recently read a mystery-thriller that began a series that she hadn't realized was the first book in a series. She thought the (continuing characters) cops were stupid because they didn't investigate well and didn't solve the original crime at the end, and the main villain escaped. Though the romance in the book wrapped up well, the mystery was left hanging. She was quite annoyed and would not go on to the next book. I heard about this and we dissected the technique for about two hours.

So watch your set-ups and pay-offs. If you set up an action, especially a main problem in your book, you will have less readers upset with you if you solve that problem instead of leaving it dangling.

For myself, I tend to leave a few threads unresolved in my series, this is usually acceptable for readers and hopefully tantalizes them, and it gives me a longer arc to work on a particular story.

The romance wraps up, the character growth wraps up, but there is a continuing story thread that is not resolved.

For instance: Once a hero was disinherited and this caused major problems for his whole family over the course of 3-4 books. Lately I've introduced a violent and evil political group (heh, heh) and have whittled down some of its members from book to book, but have left one last person unknown . . . to be caught and punished in the next book. This will wrap up that particular thread that's run through three books.

A final note. What I think is most important is the emotional punch of an ending. If you make sure you get the emotion right, some lack of technique can be forgiven. Like the first line or paragraph of your story should hook the reader, so should the last paragraphs or lines evoke enough emotion to linger in your readers' memories.

I've written twenty-five books, four novellas and two short stories, and I've always worked hard at the endings – to tie things up right, leave a good punctuating emotional note that would echo after the reader finished. But I think I've done exceptional endings twice.

My most recently published book, Ghost Killer, has one of the best endings I've done. (And thus why I thought of this topic). That ending is second after HeartMate, published book #1 (which might have helped get me published in the first place).

And here's a fact about Ghost Killer's ending. It came strictly through the historical research as I was writing the book. I knew in general what I wanted, but the research supplied another couple of layers to the moment.

So look inside yourself for your ending, see if it can echo your beginning, perhaps leave a hint of the next story. And be open for the muse or fate or research or an odd comment you might hear to add that emotional note you need to make a reader smile and sigh and close the book, wishing it wasn't over.

May all your writing dreams come true,


By Robin D. Owens

"My brain has decided that writing isn't a temporary job anymore," said Laila, a writer I've been sprinting alongside in the mornings lately.

"I'm rearranging my office this morning during our writing sprints. When I started working my day job from home and writing too, I assumed it was temporary. I thought I was going to join an MBA program. But after finishing this manuscript, I've realized that writing isn't a temporary job anymore."

"That's important." I typed back. I spend most of my days with an online group doing sprints. They are motivational and supportive (the people . . . though I suppose the sprints – wars – are supportive, too, and certainly motivational).

Everyone is invited. The ones who stay find this process works for them (it doesn't for everyone). We are published traditionally, published by small press, self-published, published through Kickstarter, and unpublished. Laila is unpublished.

Laila joined the war room (a specialized chat room) in March (yes, I asked her since I'm writing this with her in the war room) "one week into the draft of the manuscript."

The last couple of months have been intense in the war room, with three of us solidly working. I was late with Heart Legacy and turned it in May 8, then jumped on Ghost Talker, due at the end of this month. (Ha, ha, ha).

Jay had a book due to her small press on June 15. Both Laila and Jay finished their manuscripts on the same day last week.

We all celebrated with cheers and virtual champagne. Because we aren't in the same room, you know, or even in the same area.

We are worldwide. Sweden, England, Ireland, East Coast Canada, Central Time, Mountain Time and West Coast Time zones are all represented.

But we are a community, an extremely supportive and motivated bunch. And that's incredibly important to me. By now, I would say that daily support is necessary to me.

I've done the home-from-day-job-start-writing business. I did that for many years, writing alone in the dark every night, writing on weekends and holidays. At that time (and now) I had RMFW critique buddies, the monthly meetings and various get-togethers for support.

For me, the support of writing friends is vital.

I think it is vital for all writers. You aren't alone. There are others out there like you. People who hear characters speak to them or see a scene roll before their inner eyes. Or writers who struggle with character decisions, turning points and plot. Clunky words and learning technique. And if you hang around us, we will motivate you to write.

A caveat: Make sure you find the group that fits you. Ditch the ones that drag you down and suck out your energy and emotions (because, yes, some do).

But if RMFW fits you (and it boggles my mind that it wouldn't), stick with us, your friends in RMFW, your critique group buddies. Your Writing Groups. We will help you. We'll be there. You can count on us.

May you write wonderful words today.

(p.s. send me an email if you think you need the wordwars group -- robindowens (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll get back to you with the chat room url and password. Like I said we're open to everyone, but a lot of people come and go deciding whether or not we work for them. We tend to do days in the U.S. Sometimes evenings and nights. We do have a spec fic slant.)

Beta Readers

By Robin D. Owens

Beta Readers are those people who will read your manuscript after you're done, but before you submit it to your publisher.

I have a mentor (Kay Bergstrom) who always reads my work, and I have Beta Readers. Though I try and keep track of people who have read my manuscripts and help me, I tend to cycle through readers (fans) on my blog and facebook, looking for good beta readers.

But I have one guy named Joe (no, that's not his real name, but equally common). Joe started with my futuristic/fantasy romance series and has followed me through my fantasy and my paranormal romance. Joe is good. Since he's been reading my manuscripts, he's gotten better. I don't know whether that's because we've worked together or not. But I can trust Joe.

This morning, before I sent my two month and one week late book due (that's already scheduled for November and being pre-ordered), I wrote a new opening that Kay advised. I worked about three hours on this opening scene so it had enough set up but not too much info dump. Who did I send it to that I knew would get back to me quickly with an honest read? Joe.

Much as I love compliments – and we all need compliments – what we need most is an honest read if we want our manuscripts to be the best. We can get this from critique buddies, we will definitely get it from professional editors (whether we pay them or the publisher pays them), and we should try to find beta readers who do this.

During my recent quest for beta readers, I sent out five rough draft manuscripts to people I thought might be able to help me. Some were familiar with the series, some stated editorial or literary background. All of them said they read fast (because I tend to need a fast turn-around).

One of those never got back to me. This always happens. Often some get back to me too late.

I always ask for OVERALL comments on the story, places of confusion, slow pace, characters not acting reasonably or being stupid or jerks, plot holes, other problems.

I don't care about grammar and punctuation. My publisher's copy editor will take care of that, and I have a good friend I pay to copy edit, too. At this particular point, the rough draft, I need input on the story.

This time I got: Wonderful book, rest assured your fans will love it. Great, that felt great, but was of little help with the story.

I got punctuation, grammar and typo stuff. This also always happens.

Mostly I got continuity errors, which are important and I fix before I turn it in, but I didn't get any comments on characters or plot except from Kay and Joe. So this round wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

Especially since I lay in bed last night knowing something was definitely wrong with my secondary black moment, when the relationship breaks. Joe hadn't said anything about it, so it didn't bother him as a reader (like the lack of stated motivation for the villain had). Kay had a problem with it, and I cut pursuant to her suggestions, but it didn't still didn't work. So I had to go back and forth and around and around (like my ceiling fan), until I came up with the solution. I pretty much returned to the basics of character, craft, and the romance genre rules and figured it out. When I did, I knew it was right.

So, some points of this blog.
1) Beta readers can be extremely helpful.
2) You will have to look to find good ones, if you do, keep them. Be gracious to those who give you what you don't need.
3) The bottom line is that you must also trust yourself.

The GREAT Idea From Two Different Points of View

By Robin D. Owens

"I'm getting into the writing business," my ex said as we walked through the spring sunshine last month to the ice cream shop. What my ex knows about writing can fit on the point of a pin. "I have this GREAT idea. You can do the legwork." And now you know why he's my ex.

"No," I said.

"It will make us lots of money," he said.

I saw a penny on the sidewalk, reached down and handed it to him. "That's how much your idea is worth." (No, that didn't happen, it's just for the story). "Ideas are nothing without hard work."

He ignored me and kept enthusing about his great idea that has only been done a zillion times because, you know, he doesn't actually READ books like the one he wants me to write so he doesn't know the market. I don't think he reads fiction at all.

Nor has he done any basic research on the market, because that's the legwork I am supposed to do.

But, you know, I should be thrilled to write a coming of age story (which I loathe) about a new girl in a Catholic high school with a lot of sex. Sexy enough that both men and women will LOVE to read this book. Then I will write the screenplay and it will become a lucrative film.

I wish the above was false, but no. Thankfully he had another appointment to meet someone about another GREAT business idea SHE would implement and we only had about a half hour together, but I can tell you, I didn't enjoy my Irish Cream ice cream as much as I'd anticipated.

If you are a writer, this will happen to you. Words like the above will come to you from the least likely person in the universe. They will come from strangers after you've just met the person.
Everyone believes writing a book is easy.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, 1,000,000 words. Or 10,000 hours, and you will master the craft of writing. The same amount of work it will take to master any other profession.

And great (or not so great) ideas are a dime a dozen.

Here's another true story about another great idea from a different slant.

I had a friend in the business but a new writer say last time we met "Don't tell anyone this idea I had." She made a face because she knows that's a standard worry of amateur writers, but she meant it, too.

It was a lovely idea, and I don't know how long it would take her to write it, but I could write it faster. If I wanted it. I don't. As I've also said before, one basic idea (or pic) could be given to a roomful of writers and everyone would write a different story. The theme of this particular story that my friend has is not one that I agree with, so I won't do it. I would never use this idea of hers in a million years because I'm not interested in writing that particular plot, either. OTOH, if she gets it done, it's sufficiently interesting that I'd read it -- after she's put in all the research.

I have a lot of ideas of my own...some proposals that weren't picked up and I may never get back to or will be changed for something new. A SERIES that was dropped that I still have the outline for 3-4 books. Ideas that are my own that I can get excited about.

And, really, most story ideas have been done and we're just looking at permutations.

So, as for ideas...I've been reading a lot of different contests' entries (unpublished and published) and there are some that are interesting, but...they aren't mine, I might enjoy reading them, but never writing them.

Again, those people who think a published author (or other writer) would steal their idea mark themselves as amateurs. We have our own ideas that we love.

May you enjoy your imagination today,

Hook me, baby.

By Robin D. Owens

Hook me, baby

Occasionally I pick up one of the unread books I've purchased and say, "hook me, baby." Most of the time I realize why I didn't read the book right away, and often I just go to something else. The amount of time I can spend reading is extremely limited, and if there isn't a good hook, I'm gone.

My bias: I am a firm believer in getting the hook in the first line, and if not the first line, then the first paragraph. I think the longer you take to set the hook, the more likely it is that the reader will skip to the next book in the pile (or on their device). I believe that no matter your status as a writer – unpublished or New York Times #1 Best Seller, you should attempt to hook the reader as soon as humanly possible. Don't expect the reader to have read any other books of yours, especially if you write series. Work your hook, always.

Like I said, this is my bias and this is the point of view I'm coming from in this article. And as a reader, I want to be drawn into a story quickly. (I once had an agent turn Heart Thief down because she "liked to sink into a story.")

The following are some openings that DON'T work for ME. These are true examples, pretty much as I flicked through my electronic library, but the authors will remain anonymous.

1) Starting with the weather. I don't care if it's hot and sultry, or if a thunderstorm is raging. Why, if your hero is making a pact with the devil at the end of the paragraph, don't you put that in the first line? Or if your heroine senses danger outside in that storm, you wait until the end of the second paragraph before telling me? Use it up front to get me interested in your story.

2) Five people named in the first two pages. What? Who? Why? What is going on that there are so many people? Who are they, and who of these five are important? Where are they? You have to keep track of them all, what they look like, their ages, and who moves where. This was especially necessary in the mystery I'd started. This becomes less of entertainment and enjoyment and more work for me, the reader.

3) Ten pages of standing and looking out the window and thinking about backstory, or driving somewhere and thinking of the past. When will the action/story actually start?

4) The hero or heroine embarrassing himself/herself or acting stupid in the first scene. If I'm putting myself in that person's skin, I don't want to feel embarrassed or stupid, I can do that just fine on my own in my own life, thank you, I expect more of my protagonists. At this point, unless I know and trust the author, I don't know if the character will really improve or not.

5) Point of view of a wonderful person, an obvious victim who will die before the end of the first scene. I especially don't like to be tortured to death. You had better have a very good story reason for this, and you had better not have been manipulating my emotions gratuitously. This is a cheap-shot to try and get me involved without giving me information on your main protagonist.
Note: I finished this book, but am still irate that the New York Times best-selling author didn't find a better way to give us information that the main characters didn't know. S/he should have mastered a better technique to do so, and if s/he doesn't know a better technique his/her editor should have. I reread the books I buy often. I have never reread this scene.

Other ways of opening that may or may not work, depending upon the reader and/or the technique of the writer. These you should consider.

Starting with a dream. Conventional wisdom states this is a no-no. I can't say "never," since in my twenty-four published books, two have started with a dream, including the latest, Heart Fire, which begins with a nightmare of a past event. Two pieces of advice: Make sure readers know up front it's a dream, and keep it as short as possible.

Single character on stage. I've also used single character on stage; again, keep the backstory to a minimum, keep the time the person is solo as short as possible, and make sure the character's voice is engaging, or the events s/he's immersed in are active -- fast action and/or a dangerous situation.

Tense and/or Point of View, for instance:

First person present tense. I, personally, have a problem with reading this. It makes my head ache. If there isn't something especially wonderful about the book, I close it. Be aware of tense and point of view with regard to the genre you're writing in and your audience.

With regard to point of view, I like deep third person past tense. I don't particularly care for omniscient point of view as it seems distancing to me as a reader and the less engaged I am in the story, the more likely I am to put the book down. Again, some genres and readers accept this better.

And that's my two-bits on hooks and hooking me to read your work. Other people might have other sensitivities, but I will say that I try my best to stay away from what bothers me as a reader as I craft my own work as a writer.

Be aware what hooks YOU and keeps you reading, study the books and the openings that particularly worked for you as a reader and figure out if you can use the same technique.

May all your writing dreams come true,

Nailing Voice

By Robin D. Owens

I watched that reality show, The Voice. I especially like the blind auditions and observing how the coaches work with people – because I like seeing professionals practice their craft in other disciplines, and I wonder if I can use this or that technique in mine.

To be honest, though I LOVE music, and writing to music, I prefer no vocals to distract me. And though I've watched the show since it began and am learning the terminology for singing and the music business, I don't consider that I have a good ear. For singing.

But for writing? Yes, I can usually spot when someone has nailed their voice.

THE main thing in writing is also VOICE. It's that uniqueness that only you can bring to the page. The way you structure your words, the way you put together your sentences, the characters you swagger across the page . . . simply, the way your mind works.

And when it works, the reader knows it.

All our backgrounds are different, depending where and when we grew up, our social strata and how our parents and peers talked (for instance, I never heard my parents use the f-word – ever, and my father grew up lower class in Denver with three brothers). So the words you use will be different than even your best friend's. Your world view is your own, and with that view, you will craft the worlds, whether it is contemporary Denver, historical Mississippi, or Space Station Zebra, that you want to explore, and that you want others to explore.

Usually it takes a while to find your voice, to refine it, then to keep true to it. I know that mumbledy-mumble years ago, when I began seriously writing, the leader of my first critique group had me check out a packet from the RMFW library on Voice (yes, it was that long ago). This packet had a couple of books and conference lecture tapes (WAY long ago). At the time I was a little miffed, because I thought I'd found my voice. But after going home and writing a scene in my favorite author's style, I realized I wasn't quite there. So I read the books and listened to the tapes.

I also remember being scolded for using cliches. I once wrote "we were ships passing in the night." So, the next time critique group met, it was: "We were ships, passing in the night. But he was a nuclear sub and I was a clipper..."

Yes, you may start out writing robotic characters that fizzle, cliches that sound new but are so old that a reader never wants to see them again (like "strappy sandals"). Paragraphs strung together that might be found in any new writer's books, published or unpublished (my first manuscript is staying firmly in the drawer). But as you write and as you grow as a writer and as you READ, you will find that voice.

Even if your everyday voice isn't the one you use when you write, if you craft lyrical sentences, or you polish or pare down until the words on the page are closest to the images in your head (or the voices in your ears), you will find your original voice and use it, and that's what will keep the readers coming back.

And that's what I want to remind you of this month, that you have a voice that is only yours. Characters that only you can imagine, your plot that will twist this or that way.

Find your voice, let it grow and change as it needs to, and stay true to it, because that's why people will want to read YOUR stories.

May all your writing dreams come true.

Writing as a J.O.B.

By Robin D. Owens

Some quick bits of advice for the new writer (or reminders for the experienced, though I expect them to just nod, because they know this and don't need to be reminded).

1) Writing is work and it can be hard. Even if your original words spring from a wonderful inspired rush, there is still dealing with agents, editors, reviewers. If you're e-published, there is a mountain of decisions to be made about covers and editing and promo, promo, promo.

I remember when I realized writing was work. I was revising my first book (which I'd written one summer without benefit of critique). I was so new I had a writing buddy (who has since quit) so we could check out our writing BEFORE taking it to our critique group so we didn't embarrass ourselves.

It was Saturday morning and I was not a morning person. I met my friend at a place across town at 7 a.m. and we read each other's scenes. Hers was fine. Mine, that I'd spent hours writing and revising was: "This is great but it doesn't belong in the book." Hours. Mental anguish finding just the right word. Gone forever. Writing, and making a career of writing is not JUST fun.

No, writing is not police work or firefighting, or other physically or emotionally taxing professions, but, yes, it can be hard. As the late, wonderful Rick Hanson said, "Writing is the hardest thing I've ever done, and I was in VietNam." Or, as Steven Moores says: "If writing was easy Ernest Hemingway wouldn't have shot himself in the head with a shotgun."

Note: only three of the ten-twelve of us in that original group are still writing.

2) Ten thousand hours, a million words before your craft is honed. Yes, really. Everyone thinks they can write a book, and write one easily, and (if you are lucky), easy books will come. But this is a craft, a profession, a job like anything else. Whatever hours you put into training for your day job or regular career will have to be worked in writing, too.

Sometimes when I have problems I haul myself and computer to a local coffee shop. One day I was there, and when I powered up and the word processing program came online, it showed my formatted work. I think I had printed pages of revisions beside me, maybe some promo for my last books.

A woman sitting at the next table with three other women (a book club, I think) slanted me a glance and said to her friends, "You remember when we all decided to write a book last year?" Yes, they did, and they talked about the experience. They'd thought it would be easy. No one had gotten to Chapter 3.

3) Don't depend on inspiration to show up before you write. Some days pages will plink out word by word like drops of blood wrung from your brain and heart, slit from your wrist to hit the keyboard with your fingers. If you are good enough, your readers won't be able to tell which words originated from your flushed inspiration and those that dribbled out.

I attend a writing retreat in South Carolina every year, and one year a woman showed up who'd written an award-winning children's book. She'd done that on a fabulous wave of inspiration. She was taking this time to free her mind so she could repeat the process. She spent all that week waiting for the inspiration and it didn't come. I don't think she's ever written anything since.

Stephen King writes about his muses, the boys in the basement. Show up every day at the same time, and the guys will be more likely to show up, too. For me, that means that if you sit down, and your brain and body know you're going to work, it can be easier to do.

Discipline is important. Put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard and write. If fabulous literary words don't come, write workman-like sentences. If workman-like sentences don't come, write whatever does. Give yourself permission to write crap. You can always revise.

You CAN do it!

Go forth and WRITE GOOD STUFF!