Category Archives: General Interest

Just Right?

By Pamela Nowak

So what is it that makes a writing group just right?

As a current member of four different writers’ organizations and a former member of others, I’ve discovered each has its unique flavor and that I get something different from each one of them.

One of the groups I belong to provides broad industry support. It is a large organization, genre-specific, national in scope, and focuses primarily on the business of writing. Development of craft and marketing tools are offered as well. There is a monthly publication for members, multiple on-line loops/list-serves targeted to specific information sharing, and local chapters. A national conference is held annually but it is costly and so many people attend it that it feels impersonal. It is what I think of as my professional organization. But it is not a writing family.

I joined another group at the suggestion of a writer friend. This is a smaller group, regional in nature, also with an annual conference. I am a member but have little involvement in the group.

Another of my groups exists to promote women writers. It is small, represents multiple genres in both fiction and non-fiction, and has traditionally focused on member networking. There is an annual conference, a loop/list-serve, a Facebook page, and opportunities for promotion in an annual catalog of publications. I’ve made some good friends among the membership and make efforts to support fellow members but I often don’t feel a daily connection to the group.

Nor do I with the various list-serves/loops that I belong to. They assist me in gathering knowledge about particular topics and connect me to others who as seeking the same information, but they are not nurturing and I know almost none of the other “members” personally.

In RMFW, however, I have a completely different bond. In my early years of membership, I relied on this group to guide my craft development. I found educational opportunities abundant and critique groups invaluable. Classes, newsletters, conferences all allowed me to grow as a writer. Early on, this was the organization that I most identified with. Friendships grew within critique groups, then with those I met at conference, and I have discovered some of my closest friendships within RMFW. Once I began volunteering, I discovered an even deeper link to the group and fellow members. For me, RMFW is a family.

But there must be something that makes each one of these groups different–something which makes one appeal more than another.

Logically, a group that represents a single genre or gender group or region should be more of a family. A small group should have a closer membership than a larger group. But that’s not necessarily the case. Each group has its own character and each of us looks for something special within a group. Some of us may love the genre-association of a large national group or the social-focus of a networking group or a gender-based organization. Fellow members of the same groups I belong to may feel very differently about them. I have friends who claim one or another of them as their “family” while I do not.

So, I guess that means there really is no answer to my question.

A writing group is just right when it’s just right.

Here’s hoping each and every one of you has found the right group!

Write Deliberate Dialogue

By Karen Duvall

We’re deliberate about everything we write, so why should dialogue be any different?

Here’s the thing: Remember when you wrote your first story? As soon as your characters started talking it became a “wow” moment. The words flew onto the page as if your fictional people had taken on a life of their own. They’d become like real people having real conversations. Writing dialogue was (and still is) fun and you considered it your strongest writing skill. Perhaps you still do.

Writing down those conversations was the easiest thing in the world, and we were damn good at it. How could we not be? We talk to our friends, our spouses, our kids, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store… We know how to talk because we talk all the time. So writing dialogue is the most natural skill ever.

And then we discover it’s not as easy as we thought.

There is a skill to writing dialogue and I think it’s one we improve with practice. Lots of practice. It’s not just about ditching the dreaded speaker tags, or using “beats” to create natural pauses and add character actions to conversations that bring them to life.

There’s also planning involved. Which is what I mean by deliberate.

Most of us started out writing by instinct, probably because we’ve read so much over the years that some aspects of the writing craft were absorbed by our subconscious. This could also be why we assume writing dialogue is so easy. It feels easy. Planning it, however, takes more thought.

I recall one of the first lessons in dialogue I ever learned was more about what not to do than what should be done. First rule: don’t be boring. In other words, don’t write a conversation like this:

“Hi, Mary,” John said. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine,” Mary said. “How about yourself?”

“I have a cold,” John said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mary said.

Yeah, pretty bad. But what makes it bad? Well, for one thing, their conversation isn’t going anywhere. It’s not adding anything of value to the scene and it’s not revealing anything about the characters other than John having a cold. Big woop. If it were Ebola, maybe we’d have something there, but even then, it’s the presentation of this bland conversation that gives it a D-. Point is, this is not the kind of dialogue you want in your story.

Let’s say it’s important to establish these two characters greeting each other. It’s pivotal to the plot. Things can’t progress without Mary and John saying hello and confirming he has a cold. It’s a short greeting that has purpose. So if the conversation is going to be boring, do we have to use it? What other choice do we have?

Here is where being deliberate comes in. There are two kinds of dialogue: direct and indirect. Most of the time you want to use direct dialogue to show the characters interacting. You want to see them in action, hear their voices. But when the action isn’t important, or the details are superfluous, you use indirect dialogue. Basically, it’s a summary of the conversation.

It seems like such a simple thing, but how often do we run our characters off at the mouth only to discover what they had to say wasn’t any big deal. The big deal was for them to speak to each other. The precise content of the conversation itself isn’t important.

We can do this one of two ways, either of which is far more interesting than a he said/she said conversation. With indirect dialogue, you summarize the conversation in narrative:

I saw John yesterday and he actually said hi to me. I couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, then suddenly it’s like the fight we’d had in the store never even happened. And you know what? He looked like crap. Said he had a cold. I hope it’s mono.

Now you’ve skipped the boring part, went straight to the meat of the conversation, and added character development to boot.

Your second choice is to summarize the dialogue within direct dialogue:

John curled his lip in a snarl. “Yeah, I saw Mary. She tried to ignore me, but I refuse to stoop to her level. I said hello. Sure, she said hello back, but in that snotty way of hers, acting all high and mighty. I may be sick as a dog, but at least I have manners. More than I can say for her.”

Boring? No. There’s conflict here. We didn’t need John and Mary to have a conversation on stage, though they could have had one, depending on the needs of the plot. Sometimes you have to move quickly from one scene to the next so that you can get to the important part. The tense greeting between Mary and John is the propellant that ignited whatever flame scorches the root of their conflict. That conflict is more important than the boring banter we skipped to get to the juicy bits.

So be deliberate with your dialogue. Make decisions about what needs details and what can be summed up in fewer words. Then have fun writing it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing as Cory Dale, Karen’s latest urban fantasy, DEMON FARE, will release December 15, 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Four – Character Development

By Jeanne C. Stein

I’m in China the rest of the month on vacation. No laptop. No cell phone. Will I survive? If I’m back next month, you’ll know I did!

Since we spent most of last class discussing rules, here are some of NYT bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver’s regarding characters:

1. They must be likeable
2. They have to do something
3. They have to speak realistically (Lesson Six for us)
4. They have to be multi-dimensional
5. They have to be sympathetic—even the villains

In Lesson Two we took a brief look at character development—deciding whose story we wanted to tell. The protagonist. Generally, she’s the first character we come up with when plotting a new book. How do we make her likeable? We give her a name, we describe her physically, we give her a job, sometimes a hobby, and populate her world with friends and family. We make her sympathetic and interesting.

We set her up in her world and then we tear it apart.

In UF, that often involves introducing paranormal characters or if our protagonist is a paranormal character, introducing a personal threat to her or her world. We give the character a problem or a goal—something that will cause conflict. Something that makes her have to do something. We set her on a quest. Same if you’re writing a thriller, a mystery, a cozy, a romance.

Before we talk about the villain, let’s mentions secondary characters. These are different from “throw away” characters—the waitress at the diner, the bag boy at the grocery store. Throw away characters appear briefly, should have only a one or two sentence description, if any at all, and never appear again. You don’t want to yank the reader out of the story with a long, detailed description of a character that is not relevant to your plot.

A secondary character, on the other hand, might be our protagonist’s sidekick or mentor. A romantic interest. A secondary character should never overshadow the main character, but rather reflect something about her. A secondary character might be the object of the conflict—our protag must save him or her from the big bad. It’s often the relationship of our protagonist to this secondary character that makes her multi-dimensional.

As for our villain(s), Deaver reminds us that even they have to be sympathetic. No, that doesn’t mean we have to make our readers like them, but it helps if we can make our readers understand them. Antagonists often have a huge stake in the outcome of their conflict with our heroine. Sometimes it’s the destruction of one world to allow another to take its place, sometimes it’s revenge for a real or imagined crime committed unknowingly by our protag or someone close to her, sometimes it’s simply to save his own skin. Something has set the villain against our protag, his motivation is as important as hers. It may not be moral or just or even reasonable, but without it, you have caricature instead of characterization.

So, how do we develop our characters quickly? And why do we want to?

Simple. The sooner we throw our protagonist into the fray, the faster we hook the reader. How do we do it? Show her in action. The scene may or may not have anything to do with the primary plot, but what she does will define her for the reader. It’s also a good way to introduce the world and secondary characters without pages of info-dump to set them up. Action is always better than words.

What else do we need to know about our characters?

In UF, for example, if they are supernatural, what are their powers? Did they come by them naturally or were their powers thrust upon them? Are they unique even among their own kind? How so? Do they have natural enemies? Does the human population know of their existence? Is the protagonist aware of her powers or does something happen to activate them?

Our villain—is he unique among his kind? Does he target our protag for a specific reason? Why is her after her? To steal her powers? To prevent her from becoming…what?

Think about your protagonist and antagonist. Think about how you want to introduce them to the reader. The antagonist may not show up in that first chapter, but your protagonist will. How do you go about making that character as interesting to the reader as possible?

Now, speaking of characters—our interview today is with Mario Acevedo. He writes the popular Felix Gomez vampire series. If you haven’t sampled a Felix Gomez novel, you need to. He has a unique spin on his UF world.

1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?

As a tag, I prefer Testosterone-laced Macho Supernatural-Mystery-Thriller. Barring that, Urban Fantasy is okay. Stressing the Urban part, my hero likes his neighborhood cafés and he hates being more than stumbling distance from a bar. For the Fantasy part, he thinks the ladies consider him a hot number.

2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?

By Urban I mean that as gritty and contemporary. Fantasy, well, I’ve got vampires, aliens, zombies, dryads, and efficient government workers.

3. Did you set out to write UF?

At the beginning? No. I tried the idea of a vampire-detective and it stuck. Like mud.

4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?

Given the choice, which would you rather do: work retail or fight vampires? In one you wear polyester; the other, leather and stainless steel.

* * * *

You can tell from his answers (and the titles of his books) that humor plays a big part in Mario’s books. To him, it comes effortlessly. To me, it’s daunting. Infusing humor in your story, though, is a way to add another dimension to your characters. Look for Mario’s next Felix adventure coming soon.

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, have fun!! This is the first year in awhile that I haven’t. I’ll miss it. Try to join some of the online groups and attend as many of the local write-ins as you can. There is energy in a group of writers!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!! Or as they say in China: 感恩节快乐

World Fantasy Con 2014

The Tears of the RoseBy Jeffe Kennedy

Last weekend I attended the 40th World Fantasy Convention (WFC). In fact, I’m writing this post as I fly home, so I’m in that post-conference phase where everything I heard and learned has melted together in my brain.

This was only the second time I attended World Fantasy—the first being two years ago in Toronto. A lot has changed for me in the last two years. Also, I faithfully attend RWA and RT. Those factors and a few others made this a very different conference for me.

As far as comparisons, WFC is much more like RWA. It’s mainly a professional conference, more on the business and craft side and heavily attended by agents and editors. My agent, Connor Goldsmith, attended. He is still fairly new to me and this was the first time we met in person. Happily, we got on terrifically and he did amazing work for me at the conference. Based in New York, Connor already knows the editors—far better than I do. Especially as many of the fantasy editors are not people I’ve met before. With THE TEARS OF THE ROSE coming out in a couple of weeks (11/25!) and with us in talks to add three more books to the series, the timing worked perfectly. Connor is all the outgoing that I’m not and he dedicated himself over the several days to making sure I met everyone he thought I should.
As a result, I spent a lot of time in the bar, with Connor and his agent buddies, which made for a very different conference experience. Two agents I spent a great deal of time with were Jennifer Udden and Amy Boggs, from Donald Maass Literary Agency. Amy reps Thea Harrison and I’ve been glomming her Elder Races series lately, so we had a lot of discussions about the books and the series. Amy is so smart and just lovely to talk with. Jennifer reps more romance along with SFF and she’s a delight. In fact, we’re hoping to have her out to Albuquerque this fall for my local RWA chapter’s conference, LERA’s Enchanting the Page.

Hanging out with the agents and hearing their conversations lends a different perspective, as they reported back to each other what editors were saying, which pitches they received well and what they just did not want to hear. Over and over I heard them saying the editors pretty much cut short any pitch involving paranormal romance or urban fantasy. Conversely, they all wanted epic fantasy. As we all know, this could change in six months, but that’s where things stand now.

Just saying.

Other than that, I attended my first SFWA business meeting and worked the SFWA informational table. I met so many people I’d only talked to online and I’m happy to report that everyone was welcoming, inclusive and generally delightful. I made new friendships and I’m coming home eager to volunteer to support the organization.

I give WFC a big thumbs up as a professional writers conference. Next year it will be in Saratoga Springs, so still in the US. (They’re talking Helsinki after that, so this is a good opportunity to avoid the international travel ticket.)

Anything I left out? I’m happy to answer questions in the comments!

(P.S. I just landed in Dallas to find out that the RT Reviewers Choice Awards Nominees were announced and THE TEARS OF THE ROSE has been nominated for best Fantasy Romance and THE MARK OF THE TALA for Book of the Year. WOW. I’m just thrilled and verklumpt.)

Winning Advice from a LOSER

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

I’m a loser.

(Hey…even though I can’t see it, nodding in agreement is not very nice).

Let me change that a bit. I am a NaNoWriMo loser. A multiple one. I’ve played for five years, finally taking a break this year in order to keep my sanity. I’ve never won. Never came close unless you count 30k close.

For those who live under a rock, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which happens each November. A bunch of crazy people each writes a whole 50k novel in a month.  Yes, a WHOLE FREAKING NOVEL. Are these people crazy? Well, yes, they are writers so that’s a given.

However, these writers are also my heroes. Win or lose. Anyone willing to try and write a novel in a month deserves respect.

If you’re one of these crazy writers, I have some advice for ways to keep sane over the next month.

  • Don’t worry if you’re not on the road to a win. It’s not like you win a prize at the end (the web badge aside)…you know, other than satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Like that means anything in this business.
  • Even though it feels like everyone in the world is getting more words, don’t ever judge your count by others. We each have our own pace. Some people get to the saggy middle and hit a brick wall. Others run toward the end at full force, and after typing the end realize they have a steaming pile of NaNo. And others will hit 50k with a week to spare. Damn them. I, on the other hand, hit 50k about six full months later.
  • NaNo is the perfect time to try new things, to stretch your writerly muscle. Normally write vampire sagas? Why not try an action adventure cat story? Experiment. Be brave. Be reckless. Be the writer you were meant to be or at least copy someone you love.
  • Leave your expectations on October 31. While I hope you write the best novel ever, the odds are, in a month, the pace alone is going to make this novel less than perfect as a draft. We need time to dream; time to arrange plotlines and characterizations in our minds, to percolate on what comes next. That’s why we spend so much time staring at the ceiling not wearing pants. At least this is what I tell my family and friends. So after you hit your 50k, and are feeling damn good, take time to congratulate yourself and then put the novel away while your mind has a chance to mull it over.
  • Don’t rush to publish. December and January finds a mess (literally) of NaNo novels popping up on indie pub sites. While I respect indie publishing, there is something to be said for the amount of time traditional publishing takes. The process of editing and revision, cover design, copy editing, formatting and uploading takes time. I’m not suggesting you wait 2 years like a traditional publisher, just don’t hurry the needs of your work. Same goes for querying. Honor what you’ve accomplished by making it the best it can be.

I could list plenty other tidbits from the NaNo trenches, but you don’t have time to read them. You need to hit your word count. Heck, what are you even doing wasting time reading this?

If you’re participating in NaNo, please share your username and your word count so far. I’d love to see your progress, and maybe we can get a RMFW support group by friending each other.

Best of luck!

To all those who’ve served in the armed forces, thank you for your service on this Veteran’s Day.

 

Check out my website at www.jakazimer.com or friend me on facebook.

Five Reasons Why J.A. Kazimer is Better Than Me

By Aaron Ritchey

Many of you know J.A. Kazimer’s normal persona, but this blog post isn’t about J.A. Kazimer the person, it’s about J.A. Kazimer the RMFW scion, the writerly icon, the literary messiah! This is about the Platonic ideal of J.A. Kazimer.

I first met her in Colorado Springs many years ago and right away I was immensely impressed by her quiet awesomeness.  So yes, I didn’t come to bury J.A. Kazimer, only to praise her.  Here are five ways J.A. Kazimer is intrinsically better than me:

  1. NETWORKING EMPRESS – When I hit the doors of a conference, I am loud, outlandish, an explosion of personality. Yeah, I somehow make that work, but Kazimer’s way is far less showy, but also effective. She talks to people and listens to them, which is the key to networking. Asking questions, listening to the answers, and making connections with people. Kazimer does this so effectively you suddenly just love her. She is proof you don’t have to be an extrovert in a loud suit to network well.
  2. MARKETING MAGICIAN – When her first book, CURSES! came out, she started up a series on her blog called “The New Never News – Your #1 Source of Fairytale News,” and you could tell she had a great time writing about current events in Fairytale land. At the same time, I went to her release party where she had killer swag and a grand guest list, but she wasn’t exactly thrilled to be in the spotlight. This proves she can do the stuff she likes and she can do the stuff she might not be comfortable with, but that’s the marketing game. A little sweet. A little sour.
  3. QUERYING GODDESS – The real reason why I adore J.A. Kazimer is that she encouraged me to query agents and editors. I would write all the time, but I was too afraid to send stuff out. Not her. She actually posted on Facebook she missed the querying process. She is a warrior! And why not? Querying is all about the possibility of wonder and success. It should be an exciting process, and Kazimer embraced it so much she actually misses the process. Yes, ladies and gentleman, she is agented, which is quite the feat nowadays.
  4. INSPIRATION GURU – So Kazimer writes books for Kensington, she writes Indie stuff, but she is out there, working, struggling, playing the game. I find that amazingly inspiring, so when I get frustrated, I just ask myself, what would J.A. Kazimer do? The answer is write books and get them published by any means necessary.
  5. ACCOMPLISHED AUTHOR – So not only can she do the marketing and work it takes to be an author in the 21st century, she can also deliver goods. Her book, The Assassin’s Heart, is a Gold Top Pick by RT Book Reviews! Just to brag about her a little, the reviewer says, “Not only is this novel sassy and fun, but the author’s research into the CIA and the life of an assassin is reflected in her work, making it not just a fabulous romantic suspense tale, but a fantastic work of fiction, period.”

At the end of the day, I hope this blog post embarrasses the hell out of J.A. Kazimer, but too many times in this long road to writerly success, we have to toot our own horns, talk about our stuff like it’s God’s gift to the English language, and shake our moneymakers. I wanted to shine a light on a soldier in the field because she truly is a wonderful human being and one of the best folks I’ve met on this utterly strange, literary journey I’m on.

 

 

The Perils of Being a Woman Writer and First Things First

By Mary Gillgannon

It’s not easy being female and a writer. As a woman, you’re less likely to be taken seriously or to gain the respect of the public and your peers. If you write romance, as I do, the trials are even greater. The implication is always there that anyone can write “one of those trashy little books.”

I’m used to that kind of attitude and mostly shrug it off. But I’ve recently become aware of another burden of being a woman who writes fiction. Females are trained from early childhood to be empathetic, social and “helper bees.” We learn to support other people, to encourage and commiserate and be there for them. In many, many ways this is a very good thing. Civilization and probably humanity itself would not have survived without female social skills. But sometimes we take things too far, to our own detriment.

Last spring, I signed a contract with a small press. In my welcome letter, I was told I needed to join the loop for the publishing house’s authors and also a loop where those authors share promotional ideas. Dutifully, I did so.

The number of emails I get daily has been creeping up for years. It includes advertising emails as well as the RMFW loops and an on-line loop for writers of Celtic romance. Sometimes things get pretty active on these loops. I’m used to getting up to 100 emails a day.

But suddenly, with the new loops, my emails doubled. My publisher’s writers are a very enthusiastic, active bunch. Many of them have regular blogs, run contests and other promotions and on-line activities. And they like to celebrate anything good and, occasionally, commiserate over bad things. New covers, new releases, contest wins, great reviews, terrible reviews, all those things result in a flurry of emails expressing congratulations and support. It gets almost ridiculous sometimes, with people thanking people for posting a comment thanking them for a blog post, etc.

But even though they sometimes take it overboard, I will admit the loop members are truly wonderful about promoting their fellow authors. They tweet and share on Facebook. They offer blog opportunities and sign up to take part in on-line parties and special promotional events. With a new book coming out at the end of the year, I need to do some of these things. And I can hardly ask the members of these loops to promote my release or my blog or whatever, if I don’t do some of the same things for them.

But all of this patting each other on the back and even the genuine promotion of reciprocal tweets and shares, comes at a price. Time.

I used to be able to get through my emails in half an hour or so each morning. Delete the ads, except for those I want to check out later (I have a bad shopping addiction.), respond to those celebrating a special event or success, and keep in touch with friends and family (mostly done on weekends, when I have more time). But recently I realized I was spending over an hour each morning dealing with email. And another hour or more if I take time to post on Facebook, write for my sadly-neglected blog, or do other writing business.

And I can’t afford to lose that time, because mornings are my best writing time. Every extra minute I spend on email is a minute I’m not writing. Which leads me to the second thing addressed in this blog: My decision to make writing my book the first thing I do when I sit down at the computer each morning.

Two other writers and I recently did a six-week writing program at the library where I work. When we got to the class on promotion, each of us mentioned the axiom we’ve heard for years: “The best thing you can do for your career is write the best book you can.”

Whether that’s true or not, I do know that one of the best things you can do for your career is have another book published. Because the way it works is that sales lead to more sales, especially in a series. And I’m not going to have another book in this series I just started unless I make writing it a priority.

At the same time, I worry that I’m being a bad “loop-member.” That I’m being selfish and unfair if I don’t show support to my fellow authors but expect them to help me when my book comes out. The guilt, oh, the guilt! But I guess I’ll just have to live with it. The reality is, writers write. And all the rest of it has to be lower priority.

THE BACK NINE: SPRINTING FOR THE FINISH LINE OF YOUR NOVEL

By Kevin Paul Tracy

In golf, “the back nine” refers to the second half of an 18-hole golf game. It’s often used as a metaphor for finishing up, or approaching the culmination of a goal. Other sports analogies would be: “the home stretch;” “first and goal;” or “sliding in to home.” In writing I use it to refer to those last ten-to-20 thousand words of your manuscript. You’ve gotten past the swamp, that middle part of the novel that’s not set-up, not climax and denouement, just complication. You’re finally driving everything toward the final conflict and resolution.

Complex Fiction Plotting Chart

But sometimes, if you’re like me, getting all of your characters on stage and where they need to be at just the right time for everything to come together can be a challenge. One of the greatest examples of this is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. The first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of The Ring (actually there are six books in the series, but they are most frequently sold as a trilogy, of which Fellowship consists of the first two) brings the major protagonists most of the way to the land of Mordor, the major goal of Frodo the Ringbearer. But Tolkien has three or four major battles to write about (Isengard, Helms Deep, The Black Gate, etc.) before the final destruction of the ring. So while Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Pippin and the like all criss-cross the country several times over, fighting and having adventures, Tolkien finds excuses to waylay Frodo and Sam, not once, but repeatedly, to keep them from Mount Doom, which is quite literally in sight most of the time, until he can get everyone else to the battle at The Black Gate to see what happens when (SPOILER ALERT) the ring finally gets destroyed. If I may critique what is arguably one of history’s great works of fiction, the ways in which Frodo meets delay after delay always seemed rather shoe-horned in, to me.

Deliberate or not, I think we can do better. Some suggestions…

If you are having trouble with logistics, getting everyone where they need to be for the final conflict, ask yourself if the final conflict has to happen where you have set it. Is there another venue, already used in your story or not, where the confrontation can take place, that your more difficult characters can get to in the same time frame? Asking myself this once led me to the discovery of a much cooler place to present my final resolution than I’d originally planned, that now I routinely ask myself this question, even if I’m not having timing difficulties.

If you’re approaching your maximum word-count, but you still have a lot to fit in, look at ways to time-jump. For example, is it necessary to describe the heist team planning the rescue of a team member from police custody while driving to the courthouse? Or is it sufficient to simply say, “On the drive to the courthouse, the team put together a hasty and daring plan for rescuing Mr. Yellow from the cops.” Then you can just let the plan unfold as it happens, which is often much more effective than laying it out for the reader before-hand.

The absolute worst is coming toward the end of your manuscript, only to become suddenly aware of a glaring flaw in your plot, something someone is bound to notice and pan you for in their online review of your book. I’ve seen writers try to plug this plot hole by suddenly cramming in at the end of their book some spontaneous and transparently make-shift explanation that rarely fools anyone. No, in such a case there is rarely anything you can do but go back and rewrite and fix it the right way. I recently encountered such a flaw that required me to go back to the half-way point of my book and rework everything drastically from that point on. It was a pain, but there is no question the novel is much stronger for it.

At any rate, whatever logistical or timing challenges you encounter as you’re “rounding turn number four” toward the completion of your manuscript, keep in mind, you’re almost done! That should be a grand motivator. Stay agile and be flexible and find creative ways around bottlenecks and log-jams. Often your characters are where they are in the book for a reason, inconvenient as it may be, and sometimes it is incumbent upon you to work around that and still bring in a strong, satisfying conclusion to your story.>/p>


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

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On The Dangers of Writing Fictional Men

By Colleen Oakes

I remember discussing Twilight (a book I’m not embarrassed to admit I loved) at length with a couple of girlfriends, right around the height of the hysteria that captured a nation of teenage girls and forced a lot of grumbling married men to watch Robert Pattinson stare for hours at an exasperated Kristen Stewart. We were all sitting around my sister’s kitchen table, a bottle of wine open, and our books open on the table. My friends were listing off Edward’s desirable traits:

“He’s strong and a perfect gentleman!”

“He’s rich – he loves to spoil her.”

“He worships her and sees her for who she truly is!”

I remember leaning back and considering the implications before reminding them that “He” was written by a woman. HE is a myth of our own making.

There is a danger in fictional men written by female writers. As a female author, I see this trait in myself: a propensity to write perfect, flawless men. It’s only natural – I want to give my characters the best of the species to interact with; a man who is all things that my character needs, a man who is the combined fantasy of a thousand women. He encompasses our deepest desires, he listens with the ears of our therapists and girlfriends, his touch is like wildfire – he is the male equivalent of the lady in the living room, whore in the bedroom mythos. He is all these things and more. He is a delightful illusion of the needs that we don’t feel are being met: a portal directly into our disappointment.

There are a litany of sins committed when we write men this way. First, we do a huge disservice to our characters. Our characters don’t need perfect. They need complicated. They need hurdles. They need emotional resonance, for their hearts to harden like diamonds under conflict. Their minds need expanding, and above all, no character needs easy. There is no book, no story in “easy”, and a perfect man without flaw is easy. While Edward might make our hearts beat a little faster with the intoxicating attraction of teenage love, it’s the real men, flawed men – think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets – that really can turn our heads. Interesting is better than good.

The other danger in writing perfect men is that the writer, or even the reader can experience projecting – that is, when they project the expectations of a fictional character onto their real life partner. My husband, who is the best man I’ve ever known, can’t compare to a fictional man in women’s fiction. He doesn’t create elaborate dates involving hot air balloons or gallons of rose petals. He doesn’t love to clean, and he definitely never buys me cars or takes me swinging through the trees because his super strength makes me weigh practically nothing. There are no sunset horseback rides, although sometimes we do go to our favorite Thai restaurant for dinner and he lets me have one extra wonton. Our life lacks a certain romantic danger, but that’s okay, because our life is real. He may not be the rippling hunk of muscle with a secret fortune squirreled away, but this year when he dressed up like a Sith Lord to take our son, dressed as Yoda, out for Halloween, I could have fainted with adoration. He’s held my hair as I threw up in Las Vegas, he cried alongside me when we met our son for the first time, and he will never ever get his pajamas into the hamper. Ever.

But that’s okay, because he’s real. He is not a fantasy created by a female writer who is fulfilling her every Cosmo-inspired fantasy. He’s a man of flesh and blood and burps.

We don’t like it when men shove us into a box of their own pre-packaged unrealistic expectations.  Let’s not do the same.

A Few Bad Habits

By Mark Stevens

You brush your teeth. You comb your hair. You make a pot of coffee.

You’re on auto pilot, right? Not much brainpower required.

Your head is busy elsewhere, thinking ahead. Or something.

You sit down to write.

Man oh man, that first sentence of your new bestseller is going to be carved and shaped and chiseled to perfection. That first paragraph, too. Hey, go for it, the whole first page.

Then you get into the meat of the story and, well, not every image sizzles. Not every scrap of dialogue sparkles.

Your writing brain (okay, I’m taking about myself here) goes back into teeth-brushing mode.

Relaxed. Unfocused. Drifting.

And stupid.

I recently wrapped up a new manuscript. Two editors worked it over. Seven beta readers took it out for a spin. And before I hit “send” to the publisher, I decided to search deep, down in the muck of the narrative.

Not a pretty picture.

Those “weasel” words. The crutches, the lazy crap. (I wrote about this issue a couple months ago in recommending a tool called Visual Thesaurus; obviously I’m obsessed.)

To the manuscript: I did a search for the word “few.”

Stevens_FewThe bottom line?

Out of 100,000 words, 154 of those were the word “few.” In other words, .15 percent of all the words I used (out of the 1 million plus available at my fingertips) was the word f-e-w.

Even though this word is meaningless, blah, imprecise, blurry and out of focus, my slack writer brain had reached for it—over and over and over—like a strung-out junkie looking for a fix. Stare at the word for a minute and you’ll see how pointless it is. I’ll wait here….

Funny—neither of my editors’ noticed the overuse of this crutch word. None of the beta readers, either.

But there it was, this fuzzy bit of gunk dragging down all those sentences and my question is this: how do I let this happen when I’m writing that first draft? Does the brain go slack? To sleep? Into auto-pilot mode?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s just part of getting out that first version.

Maybe. It scares me to think that my writing brain doesn’t note when it’s being a lazy ______. If I’m willing to put that word on the page, what other slop is creeping in?

By the time I’d hit “send” to my editor, only seven instances of “few” remained in my manuscript. Each of the other 147 sentences were fortified with a better, more precise word choice that (I hope) leaves the story on more solid foundation.

Is this part of the process of editing and refinement?

Or does my sloppy style the first time around mean I wasn’t really seeing, listening and actively writing?

It’s a question I’d rather not answer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014