I’m listening to a fascinating audiobook about the power of the present. There are so many ways of expressing it.
“Stay in the now.”
“It’s called the “present” because it’s a gift.”
Deepak Chopra refers to it as slipping in the gap during meditation.
In this audiobook, Eckhart Tolle says that living in the now is the “truest path to happiness and enlightenment.” Tolle stresses that mindfulness, and a learned ability to stop the ever-chattering, negative inner voice will free us of the chains of the past created by mistakes and failures in times gone by. Stilling that inner voice will also free us of anxieties and fears when contemplating the future.
Of particular interest to me was Tolle’s observation about creativity. Creativity cannot exist in the past, or in the future. Creativity inhabits only the now. As I recall my most creative times, writing lyrics, poems, short stories and novels, I experience a “melting away” of life’s gnarly details—social complexities, financial responsibilities, life’s frustration—all that slips off my shoulders and evaporates, and I am in … the now.
Looking at a lake, a mountain, a deer, a flower, the ocean’s waves—these are the rejuvenating gifts of vacations, when we successfully escape “the voice” and simply … live.
All one must do is still that voice—the one that we ‘think’ is us but is really a compilation of parental ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and family/community/global expectations and standards—and we can enjoy simply being, every day of our lives, not just during getaways.
This message is also found in Buddhist and yogi writings, and in Deepak Chopra’s books and videos. Chopra in fact recommends The Power of Now.
Reviews for this book cover the spectrum, from deep appreciation for the book having helped people change their lives, to others who call it regurgitated rubbish and New Age babble.
For your further study, should you wish to do so, check out the reviews on Goodreads.
I was reminded of two important truths from the book.
Unless you have a time machine, nothing happens in the past. Nothing happens in the future. The only place anything really happens is in the present. It makes sense to silence any voice of the past, whether you think it’s your own or some kind of universal/conglomerate voice that seems motivated to make you suffer or limit you based on activities in those time periods. (Excepting criminal acts, of course.)
2. As it pertains to writers, our chiding, deriding inner voice does not belong in our creative “now.” I really like Tolle’s suggestion that we have the power to silence that destructive, crippling voice. I’ve had some good success countering it with yoga and powerful affirmations. I like to think of nurturing my “critique friend inner voice,” the one that’s based on the positive. Rather than, “This scene stinks. What makes you think you’re a writer?” my CFIV offers, “This scene can be more effective if the conflict is ramped up—how can we do that?”
I can envision a writers’ therapy session, where we gather and write a “silencing scene” in which we explore possible dialogues to say, "No!" --to quiet The Voice.
“Time’s up, buddy. Out you go.”
“Who are you, and what are you doing in my head?”
“There’s an app for that!” (pushes red ‘eject’ button)
“Sorry. Wrong number.” (gestures as if hanging up)
“No membership card? You don’t belong here.”
“I’d heed you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
Or my favorite –
“Get a life! Oh, that’s right—you don’t have one!”
The Power of Now offers writers insights into how to quiet that negative, often destructive inner voice so we can reach our potential and realize our dreams.
After more than thirty years of writing genre fiction, I will finally be able to answer “yes” to that irksome, miserable question that all would-be novelists get at cocktail parties, “Are you published?” On November 2, 2016, I signed a contract with Five Star (Cengage/Gale) for publication of my historical romance, Love’s Last Stand. Yes, yes, yes, the publication monkey is off my back forever. I am finally a so-called “real” writer. But getting published took so long I thought I’d also answered that other nagging question would-be novelists sometimes get. “If you knew you’d never get published, would you keep on writing?” Lately, my answer has been, “Well, yes, I’ve pretty much done that already.”
I first started writing fiction in 1981, in the most clichéd manner possible. I heard somewhere that Harlequin would give you $1500 for three chapters and an outline. How hard could it be to write romance? Yes, dunderhead, harder than your thick skull. I didn’t get my advance or a contract, so I went to law school. But the writing bug had bitten, and I simply couldn’t abandon that story I’d started. After graduating and working for the Department of Justice for three years, I managed to finish the book, and without ever taking a writing class, reading a book on writing, or attending a critique group. How good could that book be?
Lo and Behold! My classic story of romance took second place (or was it 3rd) in the RMFW contest, way back when we still awarded places. I was a genius! Fortune and fame were close enough to touch. Ask me about my smug smile, please. Alas, it was not to be. The story, which I still love, violated every rule of fiction writing imaginable, especially those of romance writing, and I invented a few new rules to violate along the way. I shudder at the memory. That manuscript will remain forever buried, not in a drawer, but even further out of reach, in the murky depths of Word Perfect 4.0, where no one will ever find it, except perhaps, Robin Owens.
Undeterred, I continued to write. And, more importantly, I found RMFW and my critique group, not to mention my future wife (thanks, RMFW!). I was still not getting published, but it could have been my fear and loathing of rejection, as much as the quality of my writing. I simply didn’t query much. At least not as much as I should have. Not as much as you should, if you’re not already published. I much preferred the writing and, if I wasn’t going to publish, the one thing I could do is win or final in a contest.
And contests I did with a passion. Between 2002 and 2016, I was a contest finalist twenty-seven times. On top of that, I won the RMFW Colorado Gold Contest twice, and got first place in the Crested Butte Writers Friends of the Library Contest (twice), the Southern Louisiana Romance Writers Dixie Kane Contest, the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors contest, the Central Ohio Fiction Writers contest, and the San Antonio Romance Authors Emma Merritt Contest. I was Champion of the Contest World! But I still wasn’t published.
Eventually, I simply read ten pages for Five Star editor Tiffany Schofield at the RMFW conference, and the rest is history. What to make of it? You tell me, please. Was it as simple as not sending out enough query letters? Was everything I wrote “over the top,” as one agent told me? Was it just plain dumb luck? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time all these years? Truly, I don’t know.
Mine may be a cautionary tale, and I can’t recommend my strategy for getting published. What I can recommend is finding a good critique group, continuing to write come hell or high water, and, of course, never, ever giving up. Sorry, there’s nothing new or innovative in my advice.
I may never get published again, but at least now I know it’s possible, even for me. As long as it took, I’m not ready to rest on my laurels. My smug smile has been replaced by one a bit more knowing and patient.
After all, I’m just getting started.
When he’s not writing fiction, Steven Moores is an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to law, he has degrees in journalism and fishery & wildlife biology, and his interests in writing are as varied as his education. He has written contest-winning stories in romance, mystery, young adult, and middle grade genres, and he is currently under contract with Five Star Publishing (Gale/Cengage) for publication of his historical romance, Love’s Last Stand.
Just like real people, your characters have unique personalities, backgrounds, and worldviews—they should also have unique voices. Newbie authors often miss this lesson, and as a result, all 15 characters in their novel end up sounding exactly like the author. Here’s how I took my writing to the next level by giving my characters their own distinct voices.
There are two layers behind character voice: how they speak, and why they speak that way. Here are a few examples:
Big vocabulary Insecure, trying to impress
Big vocabulary Highly educated
Longwinded Used to work as a teacher or lecturer
Blunt Doesn’t care about others’ feelings
Blunt Comes from a country where directness is valued
Loud voice Lives with a hard-of-hearing relative
Loud voice Attention-seeking
Notice, from the list above, that each how has multiple why possibilities. Also note that some of the whys on this list are personality traits (such as insecurity and arrogance), while others are related to the character’s environment (such as occupation and hometown).
Your job is to first understand your character’s whys, from both personality and environment perspectives. There are many factors to consider: character traits, education, upbringing, location, sense of humor, political and religious views, and overall attitude toward the world. Are they a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person? A leader or a follower? What are they afraid or superstitious of? Do they appreciate sarcasm, puns, or black humor? What kind of local slang or colloquialisms might they be exposed to? What job or hobbies do they have? Are they timid, assertive, or brash? Self-confident or insecure? How old are they, and how emotionally mature?
Next, determine how these whys inform how the character speaks. This means vocabulary, grammar, sentence length and structure, directness and subtext, just to name a few. This also includes verbal tics, similes and metaphors, and references to history, pop culture, etc. For instance, a college professor will likely have a wider vocabulary than a high-school dropout. Someone who studied abroad in France might exclaim “Mon Dieu!” while someone who grew up in Alabama might say “Criminy!” A professional engineer may use words like “delta” and “deviation,” while a hobbyist gardener may make analogies to roots, leaves, and flowers.
Then make a list of each character’s key hows and whys. Your lists might look like this:
12-year-old girl from New Jersey Middle-aged alien from Neptune
Hates school, but loves athletics and gym Expensive education, has traveled extensively
Uses lots of slang, sentence fragments Speaks more formally, full sentences, big words
Makes references to sports Makes references to home planet
Sarcastic sense of humor Doesn’t understand Earth humor
Once you have a rough list for each of your important characters, do a round of editing just for dialogue. Print out your manuscript and skim through the whole thing, highlighting each character’s dialogue in a different color (you can do this digitally, but I much prefer doing it by hand). Then go back to page one, and read through only one color of dialogue. You’ll notice immediately if that character is repeating himself, saying things that don’t fit his voice, or using a verbal tic too often. Make edits as needed, then go back to page one and start reading through the next color. It’s time-consuming but well worth it.
And remember, crafting distinct voices doesn't mean slathering on the dialect or slang. For instance:
Character A: “Well, hawney, sun’s a-settin’, so yew’d better git on down the road thurr.”
Character B: “Croikey! Is it dusk a’ready, mate? Oi’d better get outta here ‘fore Oi get eaten boi a croc!”
Character C: “Dude, I’ve never seen, like, a real crocodile. That would be, like, super intense, like, you know?”
For one thing, no reader wants to wade through this jungle of phonetics. For another, this is so heavy-handed that the characters come across as stereotypes rather than real people. The art of good character voices is much subtler. Here’s a better example:
Character A: “Gettin’ dark out there. You better get on home.”
Character B: “You’re right, mate. Hope the crocs aren’t out tonight.”
Character C: “I’ve never seen a crocodile—you know, a real one.”
See how these lines give a flavor of the characters behind them, without choking readers with dialect?
As with dialect, verbal tics and pet phrases will add depth to your dialogue, but be careful not to overuse them. If a character says “I dunno” or “Holy crap!” every other paragraph, readers will notice—and not in a good way. Same goes for references, analogies, and metaphors. As with anything, moderation is key.
Hopefully, this gives you a good starting point for your own character voices. Now dive into that story and start talking!
With a new book coming out in June, I have had the pleasure—and the pain—of deciding what I need to do to get the word out. My decisions are similar to the ones anyone launching a book makes. Being realistic, there is only so much time and money, and never enough. There is also a limited payoff to the some of the choices, so where do you get the biggest bang for your buck. I figured I would share the marketing plan for my upcoming release, RED SKY, in the hopes that it might help some of you.
Timing is everything
There are a lot of things you can do to promote your book, and some of them must be done months in advance. Early in the year, my publisher sent me a marketing plan with the dates of actions to be taken and the name of the person responsible for taking those actions--one advantage of having a traditional publisher, and still the tasks are the same. I added to it things like signings, travel, promotional items. The time frame goes something like this:
6 months ahead of pub date
Pitch the book for print reviews, guest articles and to local media. This includes sending galleys and later finished books to reviewers. My publisher's PR department took responsibility for this, and it resulted in some nice reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as guest blog assignments and local media interviews.
Give away galleys and books to help create buzz. There is a community of booksellers, librarians, media professionals and book lovers interested in reading e-versions of pre-published books. My publisher puts my book up on NetGallery, and later does Giveaways to boost reviews on sites like Amazon, B&N and Goodreads. I've added to it by doing Giveaways of the book once I receive my author copies--but those are limited. Sometimes you have to buy more, and that can get expensive.
Set up signings at the local bookstores. Some stores have longer lead times than others, and if you want a time close to your launch it doesn't pay to wait. Once you know your pub date, have your publicist call (r you call) the bookstores where you want to appear. My advice is to choose wisely. Venues differ. Upside, at Tattered Cover you'll be asked to speak and then sign books. Downside, if you don't have a traditional publisher willing to pay the fee, it will cost you $150 to set a date and you may have to consign your books. At a Barnes & Noble, you'll find yourself at a table in the front of the store hawking your book to their customers. Mark Stevens is the king of hawking, and he enjoys this type of venue. I don't, so I avoid this type of signing like the plague.
OF NOTE: A publicist once told me not to set up too many signings in one locale. The theory being, you can only ask your friends, family and fans to show up so many times. With Red Sky, which launches in June, I've only set up two signings—one at the Tattered Cover-Colfax store; the other at Hearthfire Books, in my hometown of Evergreen.
Two months ahead of publication
Order promotional materials and swag. Most authors do bookmarks or postcards. Some give out chocolate. Some do tchotchke items. For example, Suzanne Proulx, who wrote a series of books featuring a hospital risk manager, ordered pens that looked like hypodermic needles to promote her novel, Bad Blood. Robin Owens printed the cover of her book on the back of a pocket calendar. Brilliant! I carried that card around for a year, flashing it numerous times in front of numerous people. The key is to be creative. Put something into the hands of bookstore owners, librarians and fans that will make them want to order and buy your book. Make sure you have a good design, and research your printer. There are a number of companies that offer discounted printing, but quality differs—and quality matters.
OF NOTE: One of the best promotional values around is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blue Mailer. If you’re a PAL or iPAL member, for a modest fee you can place a blurb about your book in three consecutive bi-monthly mailers sent out to regional booksellers and librarians. For an additional charge you can include an insert. NOTE: there are specs for mailings and inserts, so be sure you meet expectations.
One month before publication
Take advantage of other opportunities
Library talks are fun, and a great way to get your book in front of readers. So are local book club talks. I've been lucky and my books have sold to the national book clubs, including Harlequin Book Club for my upcoming RED SKY. The entry on my publisher's marketing plans reads, "Cross promotion between all clubs. Coming soon email, new arrivals email and comparable titles email." I have no idea what that means, but I'm thrilled the publisher is handling things.
Agree to speak or teach, or sometimes you can simply show up. Just make sure it fits with your goals. Last weekend Mario Acevedo, Nathan Lowell and I attended "Books and Brews" in Greeley. What can beat twelve authors, and a room full of readers playing trivia, and specialty beer? In June, I'll present a workshop at the Parker Writers Group monthly meeting, and in September I'll teach a workshop at the Colorado Gold Conference along with WOTY Nominee Shannon Baker.
Donate to auctions. I am constantly being asked to donate signed books to auctions. I usually do, but I always try for added value. I want not only the winning bidder to remember the book, but the lookie-loos, too. For example, my fellow Rogue Women Writers and I donate baskets to mystery and thriller convention auctions. We each contribute a signed book, and then we add interesting things from the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. in keeping with our international espionage themes. Things like: Campbell soup can concealers, "rear view" mirror sunglasses," truth detector" devices, top secret bags, mugs and hats.
Segueing to conventions, every genre has one. In the mystery field, it's Bouchercon. The regional equivalent is Left Coast Crime (LCC). For cozies it's Malice Domestic. For thrillers it's ThrillerFest. And, trust me, they can cost you an arm and a leg. Mike Befeler and I once calculated that it cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend an out-of-state conference. Double that for ThrillerFest. We were taking into account airfare, hotel costs, meals, promotional items, and registration fees--yes, unless you're a star, you're expected to pay your own way--so there may be some additional hidden costs. The message is not to not go, but to figure out which cons are important for you to attend. For instance, at ThrillerFest I can meet with my editor and agent, as well as rub elbows with the big hitters in my genre—many of whom I can later ask for book blurbs. Colorado Gold is near to my heart, and I would go just to see all my friends.
OF NOTE: Always accept a panel assignment, and try not to be that difficult writer who can only speak at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday alongside Lee Child. Word gets around.
There are other cons, too. The Independent Booksellers across the country hold conventions, and a number of states sponsor book festivals. Many of the writers groups will have a presence at these events, and it's worth it to volunteer to man the booth for an hour and meet the booksellers. This year, I'm going to Chicago for the American Library Association convention in June. I'm paying my airfare, but my publisher has agreed to donate 100 books for me to sign and giveaway.
Be sure and budget!
Only you know what you can afford to spend. My advice, make a plan and stick with it! Don't be me. I'll admit, there have been times when I've transferred attending a con into the "personal fun" category rather than assess the expense to my book promotion budget. Don't tell!
Seriously, if you're not careful you'll spend every dollar you make writing books, twice.
This year my goal is to expand my readership, so I'm going to ThrillerFest and Bouchercon for some face time with my editor and agent, and to connect with East Coast and Canadian readers. I'm sending out mailings, creating a display poster for the ThrillerFest hall, making donations, guest blogging, speaking at several events. Just to give you a sense of the cost, my total in expenditures to promote RED SKY so far are—wait for it—a whopping $5,660. Not as bad as you might think. I budgeted $5,000.
OF NOTE: For what it's worth, Diane Mott Davidson second-mortgaged her house to fund a tour of the west coast with four prominent cozy writers. She also gave away scads of cookies, sometimes with the help of friends. Ask Chris Jorgensen about how she and I sat in the back seat of Carol Caverly's car and stuffed chocolate chip cookies into small giveaway bags enroute to the Omaha Bouchercon. In addition to writing good books, Diane's marketing efforts eventually landed her a gig on "Good Morning America" and a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list.
Now, I'm not advocating you refinance your home, or that you sell your first born. But give some thought to how much you can afford to put into promotion, and make a plan. Allocate wisely and it just might pay off!
Welcome back, Campers. This month we'll look at three other types of romance heroes: the Delta, the Theta, and the Beta heroes. (And how about those Oxford commas!)
The Delta - the dark and dangerous. His past is so dark, so damaging, and combines with such a darker temperament that he exiles himself from society and takes on loner/outlaw status. His issues have to do with the past and how to overcome it - guilt, shame, rage, isolation versus need for love.... Delta means change, and these heroes most of all must change to be able to give and accept love freely.
Conflicts for Delta
•Guilt vs Trust
•Outlaw vs Authority
•Freedom vs Home
•Self-sufficiency vs Family
He lets no one see inside. Trusts no one.
The Theta - the wounded. Theta means both death and art. These are the wounded creators, the ones too sensitive to put on the Delta's armor, and too passionate about life to kill themselves. Their very vulnerability to life's suffering makes them creative. They can be artists or writers or healers, but
their way of dealing with pain is to create with it. The Theta's issues have to do often with the self-destructive nature of the artistic temperament--substance abuse, loneliness, the need to stay open to life without dying of the pain of it.
Conflicts for Theta
Addiction vs Pain
Art vs Life
Past vs Future
Care-taker vs Care-needer
Then there's the Beta, and him I define not as a wimp but more as a good-time guy. He's the open, friendly fella always willing to lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on. He likes a party and has many friends, most of whom take advantage of his good nature. His issues have to do with 'self' boundaries - care-taking, giving too much, and not planning for the morrow because today is too involving. He could be a leader but is too lazy or too busy or too uncaring to do that. Mostly he just wants to enjoy life today.
Conflicts for Beta
Commitment vs Freedom
Loyalty vs Loyalty (friend/job/girl)
Trust vs Betrayal
(Delta expects betrayal – Beta doesn’t)
My favorite Beta hero - Jack (Bill Pullman), the nice younger brother, in "While You Were Sleeping"
Example: He's playing cards with his comatose brother and says, "Whoever gets the high card, gets Lucy." (No direct confrontation.) Love this guy!
Feel free to leave comments about these heroes – your favorites – and any questions you have.
That does it for our Romance Heroes for this month. Next month, we’ll talk about the last one.
Until then, remember BIC-HOK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. Scribendo disces scribere.
It's happened to all of us. We're someplace horribly inconvenient and a great idea pops into our heads. We do our best to record that inspirational thought for later when we have time to sit down and write. Then, when we show up at the computer to type it all up, the moment is lost, the excitement is gone, and we end up staring at a blank screen. Or, even worse, that beautiful idea only generated two hundred words, and that was that. Certainly not enough for an entire novel let alone a single chapter.
This has happened to me more times than I can count, and I imagine it has happened to many of you. I have something for you to try next time that great idea shows up on your doorstep. First - go ahead and welcome the idea by jotting down a few fevered notes, but don't rush to the computer to try to flesh it out. Not yet. I know - it sounds completely counter-intuitive, doesn't it? We've been told most of our careers that inspiration is fleeting and that you need to take it and run with it when it shows up. Especially since we’ve all had the experience of sitting in front of the computer staring at a blank page and that taunting, blinking cursor.
Here's what I propose: Instead of rushing to try to throw down ten thousand words on your fantastic flash of insight, stop. Let the idea percolate. Sit on it for a few days, weeks, or months – however long it takes - and let the idea grow. Right now, it’s just a seed. Not every flash of inspiration is a solid, healthy seed though. Sometimes these inspirational seeds are too small, and may only grow into a sub-plot or just a story point in a current or future project. But if it's a really good idea and big, a solid, healthy seed -- it's going to grow. Those are the seeds some of us want because they are the fuel for those intense ideas that often grow into multiple books.
Five Tips to Help Your Ideas Grow:
Talk the idea over with a friend or family member.
Mull it over and flesh it out in your mind before putting pen to paper. I often put the idea through various scenarios just to see how versatile it is. I often discover that the more versatile the idea, the better.
Start some pre-writing. This can include character descriptions, outlines, notes, and even locale descriptions. For fantasy or sci-fi authors, this could take the form of world-building.
Start a storyboard or mind map. Large whiteboards are perfect for this. For those of you who like to visualize your story – the storyboard or mind map can be just the inspirational mana you need for a strong start.
Read. It helps fuel the imagination.
When you let ideas percolate, you may just discover that the big ideas will stick around and grow until you have no choice but to write them down. By the time they demand to be written, chances are you'll have built more backstory, more plot, more characters, and so on, which is going to make the pre-writing or initial writing smoother. Finally, follow-through. By telling you to let ideas percolate, I’m not saying you should put them on the backburner forever. At some point, you will need to commit pen to paper and get it out of your head and onto the written page. Stories can’t just stay in our heads or they can clog the mental plumbing. So be disciplined, be vigilant, and write. Good luck and happy writing!
Stephanie Reisner began writing at the age of ten and never stopped. Under S. J. Reisner she writes fantasy, romance, and YA. She also writes erotic and paranormal romances as Anne O'Connell, occult/paranormal thrillers and horror stories as Audrey Brice, and non-fiction books and articles under yet a different pen name. Her most recent releases are Saving Sarah May (S. J. Reisner, Romance), Ascending Darkness (Audrey Brice, Supernatural Mystery), and Taming Trish (Anne O'Connell, Erotic Romance). When she's not writing she's hiking, gardening, or just hanging out with her husband and cats. To learn more visit: www.sjreisner.com
Remember the Disney production of Cinderella, when the good witches waved their magic wands of blue, red and green? Their glitter flowed like Fourth of July sparklers, creating magic.
That’s what my blog is about this month—the magic that happens with words. In an entire novel, only a few or at most several dozen of them may appear. When they do, they connect us to the characters, embed us more deeply in the setting and emotions of the scene, and increase our enjoyment and understanding of the story. They linger in our memories.
These are a few of my favorite magic-wand words. Enjoy! May these words that so inspired me also inspire you to dig deeper in your creative reservoir. May your current work in progress sparkle!
Nora Roberts, Spellbound:
… an exquisite simile
And she was there, just there, conjured up out of storm-whipped air. Her hair was a firefall over a dove-gray cloak, alabaster skin with the faint bloom of rose, a generous mouth just curved in knowledge. And eyes as blue as a living star and just as filled with power.
Nora Roberts, Public Secrets
... another one
She would remember the feel of the air against her face, air so moist from the sea it might have been tears.
Nora Roberts, Sanctuary
… a character-enriching analogy
She walked to the water’s edge, let the surf foam over her ankles. There, she thought when the tide swept back and sucked the sand down over her feet. That was exactly the same sensation he was causing in her. That slight and exciting imbalance, that feeling of having the ground shift under you no matter how firmly you planted your feet.
Katie Schneider, All We Know of Love
...melding scene and character
The clouds are pulled thin like cotton. I understand how they feel, out in the middle of nowhere, unsure of quite where they’re heading.
Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm
…skillful use of the senses
“I saw you in India.” Mrs. Humphrey had about her the slightly sour tang of an unchanged baby. “You took my clothes off.”
…expression of fury, revenge, stunning rhythm and great example of back-loading
He thought of the look on the Ape’s face, the relish of terror, the time it would take; he’d once seen two men hanged and quartered—the expression of the second condemned traitor as he watched the executioner cut down and butcher the first: that was the fear, that was the struggle, the prolonged kicking and spasms, that was the cringing, weeping, purple-faced, swollen-tongued, bloated sickening twitching entrails-sliding agony he was going to inflict.
Mary Jo Putney, Loving a Lost Lord
He wouldn’t need her, and that was as it should be. … When she was old and gray, the time she had known Adam would be the merest ripple in the lake of her life.
Annie Proulx, Close Range-Wyoming Stories
This passage slams the reader into the scene
“Hey, you’re old enough almost a be my grandmother. I rather eat rat jelly than—”
But he was edging closer and Mrs. Freeze saw his trick and the red-flushed neck swelled like that of an elk in mating season, the face beaded with desperate sweat.
“Think about it, give me a call.”
“I don’t need a think about it,” said Mrs. Freeze. She dropped the cap of the whiskey bottle, kicked it under the chair. She didn’t need that, either.
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
Memorable, humorous, backloading
“I don’t know where you keep finding these Mexican strawberries,” he said, referring to the beans. Bolivar … mixed them with so many red chilies that a spoonful of beans was more or less as hot as a spoonful of red ants.
Barbara Bretton, Just Like Heaven
…exquisite rhythm and backloading
…she clung to his shoulders so she wouldn’t slide off the face of the earth and into some vast unknowable universe of shooting stars and fireworks and whispered warnings that some things are too good to be true.
Jacquelyn Michard, A Theory of Relativity
…another memorable simile
He had never been able to think of that except as “innocent,” as guileless and tender as a childhood Christmas.
Tina St. John, Lord of Vengeance
The answer came swiftly, softly at first, a dark whisper that curled around him, anchoring his soul to the earth with shadowy tethers.
I hope you've enjoyed these magic-wand words. If you have some to share, please do!
You hear it all the time. Your characters need to be motivated to pick up that sword and slay the dragon, venture to a distant galaxy, or figure out why there’s a dead body at the bottom of the well.
What motivates your character to do what they need to do in your story?
Strip away the story for a second. Let’s get back to your character before your story starts.
Before she needed to grasp the sword, before he climbed into the rocket, before she lowered herself in the well to study the corpse.
Who is this person—at the core? How motivated was he or she--in general? As a person?
Was she ambitious to begin with? Or filled with ennui? Where did she draw motivation to, say, go to college or get a job? No, really, what drives her to get out of bed in the morning and go pursue her dream? Any dream?
And is it her own dream? Or a course charted by a parental unit? Family pressure? Family influence?
I’m thinking about all of this because I recently met a guy who was successful and highly visible for a long period of time.
And then, wham.
I mean, he got creamed. He was below down and he was below out. He had made some mistakes. He over-extended himself. He went completely belly up. He owed millions of dollars. It was a bleak scene. It took several years, but he’s picked himself back up. And now he's making another run at big-time business success.
He can trace his character and grit back to his parents and how he was raised. It’s such a key part of his life, how he absorbed what they taught him about how to approach that big wide world.
Why does anybody want to do anything?
That’s a common refrain of Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. “Murph,” the Asphalt Warrior (star of eight novels to date). Murph, the creation of the late Gary Reilly, lives a very alternative lifestyle. He questions capitalism, even the need for much of an income. How many people do you know who share that worldview?
With his idiosyncratic ways, Murph reminds me of Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, one of the most memorable novels I read in college, and Herman Melville’s Bartleby The Scrivener. Oblomov is incapable of doing anything significant. In the first 50 pages, he only moves from his bed to his chair. Told you. Great story.
And Bartleby declines most of the work assignments he’s given, even when the consequences mount.
Murph, Oblomov and Bartleby have their reasons. They are three-dimensional human beings.
Their lives are fascinating on their own because their sheer essence cuts against the grain of what’s acceptable.
Ignatius Reilly, also, the central character in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.
Ignatius Reilly: “I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.” Yes, to varying degrees, these four are anti-social.
The vast majority of fictional characters are not.
Before the inciting incident that interrupts your character's routine life, who was this person? What got them up in the morning?
I don’t think it hurts, at a very fundamental level, to understand the answer to that question.
So your character stands out from the crowd.
Final thought from George Carlin: “Actually, if you ask me, this country could do with a little less motivation. The people who are causing all the trouble seem highly motivated to me. Serial killers, stock swindlers, drug dealers, Christian Republicans. I’m not sure motivation is always a good thing. You show me a lazy prick who’s lying in bed all day, watching TV … and I’ll show you a guy who’s not causing any trouble.”
There’s nothing worse than Lazy Writer’s Syndrome. There are no symptoms in its early stages. It only becomes apparent when we look up from our busy lives and realize we haven’t been writing for—oh, ten days, ten weeks--ten months.
We have an ongoing accountability system in my critique group. Those of us who choose to participate report in once a week with their new words written. Originally, we aimed for the word count equivalent of 20 pages.
Any incentive program needs to be flexible to succeed, and ours has. When vacations, illnesses, family emergencies and the like occur, we adjust our weekly goals—or we just keep doing the best we can and turn in a wimpy report with pride because the overall goal is to keep writing new. It’s been an effective program for me.
Our reports vary from “Sent a query and wrote 300 new words” to amazing reports of over 10,000 new words. It depends on what life is presenting to us.
At times when I’m not writing new material, it’s seldom due to writer’s block. Rather, it’s because I’ve let the story get cold. When the story’s cold, the characters don’t drop in and talk to me. For those of you who think that sounds bizarre, it could also be expressed as moments when plot solutions come to you out of the blue—when showering, walking, or during the alpha state when sleeping.
If the story’s not “hot” – fresh and on my mind, as in when I’m writing new material – those character voices and plot inspirations never visit.
If I’ve allowed the story to get cold, I’m shut out. As Jeff Probst says on Survivor to the losers of the Immunity Challenge, “Head on back to camp. I’ve got nothing for you.” That’s when I languish in an “empty creative mind” state, which makes it paralyzingly difficult to fill the writer’s chair.
Here, then, are my strategies for recovering from Lazy Writer’s Syndrome.
Maintain a calendar for one week.
Record your activities in quarter-hour segments for that week
Review and prioritize. Abandon all "perfect" goals -- neat house, varied cuisine, excessive volunteer work, new hobbies that can be explored another season/year.
Maintain a calendar and enter small writing goals daily. "1 hour writing, "2 hrs writing" etc. I achieve much more success when I draw a little square box in front of my goals. This satisfies the “gold star” child in me because it gives me an opportunity to put a check in that box. I know, it’s silly. But it works!
Only after #4, schedule other stuff that needs to be done. (This “rocks and sand” concept is from First Things First by Stephen Covey—highly recommended reading. It changed my life. It can change yours, too.)
Consider meditation. When you come home from work, go to your special place and decompress with meditation.
If you’re spent from a demanding day, consider a power nap. For me, I only need 15-20 minutes and I'm "almost" as rejuvenated as I am in the morning.
Be kind to yourself. It takes planning and fortitude--and a healthy dose of tenacity.
Finally, team up with a fellow writer or group of writers and agree to post your progress once a week. Once a week gives you the freedom to have a couple of lackluster days but still turn in a respectable week's end report. Call it BICFOK (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys) or create your own name for it.
You can defeat Lazy Writer’s Syndrome! Good luck, and if you have some tips to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Johnny Carson said, "If they buy the premise, they'll buy the bit." Without foreshadowing, you’re left with deus ex machina and readers don’t like outside forces solving plot threads, or things conveniently appearing just when they’re needed.
You have to be a bit of a magician. Think sleight-of-hand, although in this case, it's more like "sleight-of-words." No waving red flags. If readers stop to say, "Oh, that's going to be important; I'd better remember it," you've pulled them out of the story.
Some Foreshadowing Techniques:
Show the skill, clue, or event early on, in a different context. These Setup Scenes can occur throughout the book. These don’t need to be high-action scenes. In fact, foreshadowing is best done in quiet, “mundane” scenes.
In the first book of my new Triple-D Ranch romantic suspense series, In Hot Water, important clues are discovered in a series of journal entries. The reader learns immediately that Sabrina, the heroine, is meticulous about recording her days in a journal. The opening of the book:
If it weren’t for the whole funeral thing, today would have scored an eight in Sabrina Barton’s journal entry. Maybe a nine.
Thus, it seems logical for her to keep the old journals she finds in her brother’s apartment after his death. To her, they have sentimental value. When the bad guys steal the journals, she’s more upset about losing hers than his, but showing readers both sets of journals before the bad guys steals them sets the stage, while obscuring the clue that her brother’s entries are the important ones. And, even better if you hide the clue “in plain sight” so it’s even less obvious. Some examples of setting this up:
Sabrina still had her doubts. During the two days she’d been in San Francisco before John’s funeral, she’d gone through her brother’s things, keeping a photo album with family pictures of them as kids. That and his journals, something their foster parents had insisted they keep.
And later …
When she’d run, she hadn’t brought a lot with her, but what she’d brought, aside from clothes, was the important—at least to her—stuff. Her journals. Years of her life. Pictures, her recipes, a few family heirlooms. Aside from her recipes, the rest was valuable for the memories they encompassed, nothing more.
Another major plot thread in the book involves a threat of bioterrorism. But rather than spring the first fatal case on the reader, it’s set up to look like a character shows up on the ranch having an allergy attack.
KJ sniffed, sneezed, then blew his nose in a red bandana. Derek noted the red-rimmed, puffy eyes. KJ shoved the bandana into his rear jeans pocket. “Damn sage is blooming like crazy. Allergies.”
Even that, however, might be waving too many red flags, so before that character shows up, I have one of my primary players complaining about his own allergies over lunch.
“Except for the sage,” Frank said. “Aggravates my allergies.” He reached into a pocket for a pill and swallowed it with a drink of lemonade.
Now, it’s just “stage business” (sage business?) and not so obvious to the reader that it’s important.
More Setup: The hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, "I'm a crack shot," and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). She’s an expert in first aid and saves the hero's life. Plus, she's an accomplished trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish with dental floss and a paper clip. Plus, she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches, all without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.
Believable? Not if this is the first time you've seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she's cleaning up after a fishing trip. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don't want to include an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she'll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.
When you give your character a job, or a hobby, don't forget to look at all the skills they need to do it. Know those 'sub-skills' and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they'll be called upon to do later in the book.
From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to "fix" stories so the characters would behave properly. Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she'd never read one. Odell prefers to think of her books as "Mysteries With Relationships." She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, The Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. You can find her high (that's altitude, of course—she lives at 9100 feet!) in the Colorado Rockies—or at her website.
You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and she’d love to see you at her blog, Terry’s Place. For sneak peeks and exclusive content, sign up for her more-or-less quarterly newsletter. You can also be notified of new releases at her Amazon page.