Thursday, December 29, 2011

Just Another Writing Blog

     Every time I do my version of writing research - which means google a topic and scan one or two of the items that come up - on a subject I plan to blog about, I find myself reading informatin about the topic on some other writer's blog. There must be hundreds or thousands of blogs by writers and/or about writing and many of them mention the same topics I am reading about in order to write about them.
     My first thought is: why am I writing this blog when it's just another writing blog among thousands? How many writer's blogs does the world need? My second thought is that clearly every subject I blog about has been covered by every other writing blog, probably more than once.
     Then I consider that one of my personal goals in blogging is to share information with other writing enthusiasts and professionals. So, if I come across unique ideas in other blogs and comment on them (and refer others to them) in my own, that is acheiving part of my purpose.
     So I read these other posts by other writers on blogs about writing and each one says something different on the same subject or sometimes says the same thing in a different way. And each one gives me a new perspective or fresh idea.
     This tells me that my thoughts on writing might offer other writers a new way to look at an issue or topic, even an age-old subject, and hopefully inspire them or their work - which is my other goal of blogging.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Seven Plot Theory

It seems the theory that there are only seven plots in (the history of) the world has been around forever and discussed and debated countless times. Interestingly, after my recent bit (emphasis on bit = tiny amount) of research on this topic, I'm unclear as to what they are.
       One article I read refered to them this way: "Man vs. self, man vs. nature, etc." As far as I know, the etc. is man vs. man and that's only three basic plots.  The plots I thought of include variations of: boy meets/loses/gets girl, hero faces/struggles/solves problem, protagonist desires/quests/attains goal... hmm...that's all I got. And again, that's only three.
        However, a single plot has lots of variables. (This always reminds me of Sonic Drive-in's claim that they have a dozen or so flavors and that equals eighty-six hundred-plus drink combinations.) 
        When you consider the different aspects of plots - setting, character, situation, conflict, and complication just to name a few- even if there are only seven basic plots, each of those aspects has innumerable possibilities. Even if there were only a certain number of intriguing conflicts, situations or settings, but countless types characters with myriad individual traits and any number of potential complications...I struggle with simple math, so this kind of calculation is beyond me, but I have to see the opportunity for unique stories as endless.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What I'm Currently Reading...

I recently finished Rick Riordan's The Lost Hero. I plan to read the next in that series, Son of Neptune, but I am now reading the latest by Tim Dorsey, When Elves Attack, and I believe Dorsey will have another book out soon which I am anticipating.
         I am reading the Novemer/December and January issues of Writer's Digest, which for some reason arrived at my house within days of each other.
        I have given into the hype and started The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larson. So far, I am  intrigued and I like the author's writing style, but I have been warned by some (and told the opposite by others) that is has some graphic violence that I will not be able to read. I sometimes have very delicate sensibilities with such things.
        I have acquired the biography of celebrated racehorse trainer, Vincent O'Brian, which I had planned to read when I am on vacation in January, but that may be prempted by offerings of some of my very favorite authors.
        I am looking forward to receiving as Christmas gifts the latest releases by Janet Evanovich and Mary  Janice Davidson and possibly Robin McKinley. I also ordered for myself - Merry Christmas to me- The Wise Man's Fear, the sequel to The Name Of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are two by Harlan Coban I would also like to read: Live Wire and Shelter. And I have not yet begun obtaining other works by Bateman, which I am anxious to do...
       My two fallbacks if I should inexplicably run out of things to read are The Complete Works of Mary Roberts Rhinehart, all 1000+ pages of which I have downloaded to my Nook, and the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, of which I have read some, but not all.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year (and happy reading). As encouragement to keep writing, consider that someday readers and fans of our own work may wait axiously for and delight in the arrival of books and stories we have written.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Two Cents On: Character Driven Vs. Plot Driven

Recently I did some brief research on the concept of character driven as opposed to plot (also know as action) driven fiction. One article I came across claimed that plot or action driven fiction describes fantasy and historical and that character driven refers to romance.

Really? Are those the only three genres that exist? Where do mystery and horror fit in? Literary fiction? Westerns? I believe plays/drama are a kind of fiction as well. So, all in all, the above definition is simplistic at least. Another idea suggested for distinguishing the difference was to ask if the hero was making choices or was the action forcing him to go/be somewhere or do something.

I find this to be another ridiculous idea. I am a believer in the phrase, "It doesn't matter what happens to you in life; what matters is how you handle it." Are there any situations where a person, fictional or otherwise has only one option? I can't think of any, except for maybe unavoidable death.
I heard or read somewhere once that there are only 7 plots in the world (I plan to investigate that concept in a future blog post). If that is true, then it is compelling characters that make each story different from any other.

The most ordinary circumstance can become intriguing if an unusual main character does something unexpected.  Alternately, the most facinating setting or plot can become utterly boring if the original concept is paired with characters who only do mundane things and allow circumstances to push them around in completely predictable ways.

My personal feeling is that whatever the plot, all fiction can be described as character driven. The situation or action gives the hero more interesting choices in what to do or say, but what he or she chooses ultimately affects what happens in the story.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Something I've Learned That Does Work For Me

I went to a writers workshop lead by a member of my awesome writers group (livingwriterscollective.blogspot). Tricia Petty, of Cellphane Ministries and Antibellum Productions,  has worked in the movie industry as well as writing novels and mentioned that working with screenplays gave her the idea to break a story down into scenes rather than chapters.
I don't know why this works, but it was a lifesaver for fixing my problem with my first book, where I scrambled the plot and the subplots, and in my second book where I tired to cobble together seperate bits and pieces of the story into a cohesive narrative. By breaking the story up into scenes, I am able to write each scene on an index card and shuffle them around until I had events in the best order. I know this will be a method I use with every book I write.
When established authors answer the common question from beginning writers "How do you write?", most  describe thier own writing process and stress that it is what works for them.  The only way to know if it can be an effective part of your own process is to try it. Different things work for different writers and few authors work exactly the same way. As my friend Karen says (mywritingloft.blogspot) your writing process has to be yours.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About My Writing Process...Or Lack Of

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am still trying to figure out what my writing process is. In one recent post I described something I've learned doesn't work for me and here is another.
     On my second book I had trouble writing the story from start to finish because there were large gaps where I wasn't sure yet what would happen. Following the concept of trying out something other writers do to see if it works for you, I wrote the parts I knew and then tried to fill in the blanks to connect the separate parts of the story. I honestly don't see how this could be the way anyone writes. I don't remember what author I got this piece of wisdom from, but he must be one of a kind.
     When that method didn't work, I sketched out a brief outline of the story in chronological order and worked from it to write each part before going on to the next. I don't see this as being something I have to do for every book, but it might not be a bad idea. It will save me having to go back and outline in the event that I do make a mess of the plotline.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Among The Things I've Been Learning... that I often don't have time or energy to write blogs on the days they are supposed to be posted - or the day before the day they are to be posted. I need to write them whenever I can, so they will be posted on time.
     And that when I post blogs on unscheduled days (like this one), it feels like it should count for the one I missed last week, but it would be more practical to disregard the missed one and post this on the next scheduled day, so that I might not skip another in the near future.
     The real lesson here is that writing of any kind needs to be done regularly no matter what, with no excuses, to aviod this problem all together. It is entirely too easy to get off schedule and out of the daily writing habit and hard to get back into it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Learning From Mistakes

My friend Karen (mywritingloft.blogspot) has begun a series of blogs on 366 lessons she has learned about writing. In one of them she says that every writer should have a process and in another she explains what her process is.  Lucky for her, she learned her process while writing a screenplay and was able to apply it successfully to her novel.
     I have completed two novels, (not counting ones that are finished-but-not-finished because I never revised them enough to consider them as good as they can be - but have not given up on and plan to continue working on again in the future), and I don't think I have a defined process yet.
     I have learned a few lessons about the way not to do things. On my first novel, I wanted to get the bones of the story down first, so I wrote the whole thing, concentrating on just the main plot. This left me with a 35,000 word (barely a novella) manuscript that was a very simple story.  Then I created a few subplots and set about weaving them into the main plot.
     It was a nightmare. Two thirds of the way through, the 3 or 4 strands of the story were a hopeless snarl. I had to virtually rewrite the whole book, going back to the bare bones and starting again.  The main thing I learned from this was that I am not a good enough writer yet to manage a complex story plot, or even more than a main plot and two uncomplicated subplots. I am in fact now working on revision 5 (or 7) of that book and almost have all the tangles out. Maybe a process would have helped me avoid this.
     What I ended up doing with this first book was adding the subplots into the main plot in a staggered manner so I never had more weave together than I could manage. This worked well in my second book also and I was able to add  the subplots or complications to the main plot at intervals and avoid the mess I made of the first book.
     I followed the generally accepted advice of setting aside each book when I was done with the first draft and going on to the next project. When I'm done with final revisions to book one in a couple of weeks, I will begin the second revision to book two. I'm hoping it will not need a half dozen revisions (and two years) to complete. Then maybe I will learn more about developing my own process.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Language Or Setting Or Dialogue Or...

In my recent effort to discover what parts of a writers work are considered most important, the only thing I found in common among readers was proper writing. (See previous post.) My recent effort in contest judging made me wonder what parts of a story readers ranked higher than others in terms of importance. Outside of the correct grammar/puncuation/spelling issue, I have discovered that everything else is subjective.
     This conclusion was drawn from comments made by many of the judges of the contest I recently participated in as well as a poll of other writers. Some like a lot of description, others take off points for too much detail.  Some think unrealistic dialogue ruins a good story, others think poor dialogue can be ignored if the characters are otherwise believable. Many readers view poetic use of language as more important than a strong plot.  There really was no consensus.
     This suggests that - other than the aformentioned importance of proper writing - no one skill or writing strength that can be considered more significant than others. The ideal would be to strive for excellence in all aspects of writing, building on what you do well and continually working to improve areas where you struggle.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Aspects Of Writing Are Most Important?

     I've been doing some research - I can't call it a poll or even in-depth research - on how readers, critiquers (if thats not a word it should be), contest judges and possibly instructors weigh various aspects of writing. I have surmised that the things rated most important are basic grammar and spelling. Almost no one will even read a story (book, essay, blog) that is hard to read simply because it is  poorly written in terms of proper punctuation, paragraphs, and sentence structure.
     This could be seen as slightly unfair, because someone's lack of rudimentary english skills doesn't mean they don't have a great story to tell or fabulously developed characters, etc.  The good news is that proper writing can be learned. While some people say -and others disagree - that various writing skills can be learned, grammer and spelling have set rules. And if, for whatever reason, a writer who may be gifted in other areas of writing cannot master them, there are editors and mentors and critique buddies.
     There is no excuse to have a piece of work that is written badly, even if you have to rely on someone else for help with things like punctuation and paragraph format. If you have a great story, facinating characters, unique setting, enticing premise, whatever, it is worth learning how to write correctly or have someone, friend or professional, correct your work.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Master Jack

     This year's (Cafe Doom) contest judging experience has, once again, given me new perspective and things to think about.  I have entered contests often over the years and while they are run and judged differently, many of them return judges sheets to the entrant. These are usually broken down into aspects of the work and ranked on a scale of 1-5, with comments from the reader about why they gave each part the score it recieved. Maybe the next time I participate in contest judging I will use such a method. It would make the process much less overwhelming.

One of the things I saw in the nearly 60 stories I read over a week's time was how many stories were strong in one area and weak in others. We all have more ability in some aspects of our writing than others, but in many of these stories, the discrepancy was pronounced. And it's disappointing for the reader when a story with a great plot and characters is ruined by poor grammer or less than cohesive writing style. Or a story with amazing premise or imagery is overshadowed by flat characters or unrealistic dialogue.

There are few novels and stories that are awesome in all respects, but many writers are competent in most areas and stellar in others. A good writer rarely has a weakness bad enough in any aspect of their writing to negatively affect the entire work.

So, I've been wondering, in the context of "Jack of all trades and master of none", are certain writing skills more important than others? Which weaknesses are more likely to detract from a really good piece of writing? How strong does any one ability have to be to overcome flaws in other areas?

Note: This post was partially inspired by a book I am reading, "The Name of the Wind", by Patrick Rothfuss, who as far as I can tell is skilled in many, possibly all, aspects of novel writing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Once Again I'm Amazed... how subjective writing critique can be. The judging I was participating in for the Cafe Doom 7th Annual Horror contest finished up today. I had all good intentions of critiquing and writing comments about each story as many of the readers/judges do. I'm less daunted by the work involved than by the overwhelming confusion.
     I guess I shouldn't read what others said about stories before submitting my own comments. Here's what I don't understand: several people wrote exactly what I thought about some stories. The same people wrote things like, "This story grabs your attention at the very beginning and the ending is an unexpected twist" about a story that I would have said, "Starts slow and the reader knows by the second sentence exactly how the story will go and how it will end."  How can two people have the same thoughts and feelings about some stories and completely opposite opinions of others?
     The whole experience makes me wonder how helpful the comments are to the writers. This is where we remind ourselves that the way to benefit from critique is to listen to everything, consider it carefully and choose to act on it or not, remembering that if several people say the same thing, there's probably some merit to what is said.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Please Forward My Calls...

to mywritingloft.blogspot.

I am taking a few sick days. I could blog about useless, trivial things but I endevour to be encouraging and offer helpful information and insights. Not feeling up to that so I am directing readers to my friend Karen's blog. She is doing a series of 366 lessons on writing. Inspirational, educational and entertaining. Very much worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

As If I Have Time For A New Favorite Author

I have found another author whose books I'm afraid I will have to read all of. His was one of the random books I picked up and started reading and from page one I was hooked. This particular novel is called Orpheus Rising by Bateman. His first name is Colin, but apparently he's going by Bateman now - according to him - as a marketing ploy.
     I can't begin to explain what the book is about or even what kind of book it is other than fiction, but it's certainly not what I would call literary - which is a kind of fiction I've never been able to develop a fondness for. But I loved the the main characters immediately and I think I'm more a fan of character driven story's than plot driven. I'm also of the opinion that an author who can create fabulous characters is going to be talented enough to come up with a plot worthy of them.
     I checked out Bateman's website and I think I really like him as a person as well. He's funny, which is always a plus, but also straight-forward and down-to-earth, traits I also admire (and not just because those words contain hyphens, a bit of punctuation that I am quite fond of - as well as parentheses). According to his website some of the authors who's books he likes to read are some I like as well.
     Now while I'm trying to spend more time working on my own writing I'm going to be drawn to finding more of his books and spending precious time reading them. However, we writers are often told that reading great books, especially the kind we like to write, is one of the best ways to improve your own writing.  So I'm going with that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Miscellaneous Randomness

     To start with, how many people can spell that title without having to look it up? The reason I can fits under this heading. I have a horse with that name.
      His mother's name was Random. Her registered name was P.S. Pretty Chick - ugh! - and I gave her the show name Perfectly Random. She was a mostly white Paint mare with chestnut only on the top of her head covering both ears and both eyes, which were blue. Very random-looking. Anyway, I chose to name her colt Miscellaneous, but the Paint Horse registry gives you three name choices (limited to 22 characters including spaces) and then they pick one. I chose Miscelleaneous, Random Miscellanea, and RandomlyMiscellaneous and they of course picked my third choice. (This could be tied into my posts on character names. Registered and show names and "barn names" of horses are their own special world. Aforementioned colt's barn name is Turner.)
      Where was I going with this? Randomness. Right.
      Writers and their blogs are supposed to share helpful information about writing and where to find more info and advice. I often mention my writer's group, Living Writer's Collective( and our director keeps our blog updated with useful insights, links (including the websites and blogs of various members, who are writers of every ilk) and what we have covered and learned during our meetings. Our director also has her own website, also filled with helpful fun stuff: mywritingloft.blogspot.
     Our group has a closed fb page where we share writing tips, encouragement and inspiration among ourselves. Recenly a member posted an article about the 10 Types Of Writers Block And How To Overcome Them. She posted a link, but I don't know how to do that. She got it off a site called io9, which, when I checked it out, has all kinds of unique and weird stuff. Worth visiting.
     Another member posted an article about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is November. If you want to start/write a novel or just practice for when you do, it's a fun way to go.
     For Christmas my sister got me a book called the Daily Writer. As you might guess it has daily topics about writing in no apparent order, and offers suggestions and excercises. Some of it is helpful to me and it has other stuff that is interesting and thought provoking. I will choose some of my favorite pages to share in future blogs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Time Out

     I have been very good about keeping to my book revision (average of 1 chapter a day) and blogging (twice weekly, Tuesday and Thursday) schedule, but I'm going to have to deviate for a week or so. I have once again entered the Cafe Doom short story contest.
     I entered it last year and it was fun so I did again this year. Cafe Doom is a Sci-fi/Fantasy publication that specializes in horror. The guidelines for the contest were that stories had to be unpublished (including online), under 3,000 words and could be of any sub/cross genre of horror as long as they were scary. I could only find  a few previously unpublished stories in my arsenal that were under 3,000 words - and none of my stuff is really scary. So my story really isn't qualified, but I entered anyway.
     This is why it's fun: The judging is done by the entrants. All contest entries will be posted on the website and everyone who entered is required to read every story and chose their 3 favorites (1st, 2nd and 3rd place). Last year there were 60 stories ranging from 3-12 pages and they were all unique.  I mentioned this experience in a previous blog, Rejection Disclaimer.
     Last year my story only got 1 third place vote, but that didn't bother me at all. There were some that didn't get any and most of the stories were incredible in some way. Even the ones I hated had some spectacular features.
     Another great thing about this contest was that at least half the entrants/judges gave some kind of critique of most stories. Whether they liked or hated it they made comments to help the author. Sometimes only a sentence, sometimes several paragraphs, but most critiques were well-done and unbiased.
     I was not able to critique the stories. I was too overwhelmed by the whole experience, but I did say what I loved about the 3 I chose - and choosing only 3 was hard, especially trying to place them! But it was such a fun experience that I want to try again. I will take notes and try to offer useful opinions for at least some of the stories. (And it would be nice if my story gets more than 1 pathetic vote, but I don't see how it can do worse than last year's story, which I realized was totally outclassed.)
     We only have a week, starting November 1, to read and critique however many entries there are. Hopefully, the experience will give me some new insights to share in a future post.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

About Books

     Writers love books and it's one of our favorite topics to talk and write about. Books we love, books we hate, books we don't understand, even books we've never read. Whatever the case may be, we love to share thoughts about books.
     I have a friend who writes horror and blogs about horror writing and horror novels. (theblackichorblog). She often mentions books she's read and recommends (or doesn't) and also writes reviews. Here's an interesting thing: she has trouble writing negative reviews. Even if she hates a book, she says she understands that it's someone's beloved work,she knows how much effort they put into it, and she doesn't want to tear it apart.
     I read several books at a time (well, usually only three or four). Recently I read The Tomb, by an author whose name I don't remember. It was interesting, but was one of those stories that could have been written in half the words and half the pages without losing anything. I also read He Shall Thunder In the Sky, an Amelia Peabody novel by Elizabeth Peters. Her characters and plots are always fun, especially if you have an interest in Egyptology or Archeology.
     I read to my husband during our commute and we recently read the second Kane Chronicles book by Rick Riordan and are now reading The Lost Hero by same. We are looking forward to the (released yesterday!) latest by Tim Dorsey. I recommend his books with reservations because you have to have a twisted sense of humor, like ridiculously unrealistic characters and bizarre but fun plotlines.
     I am reading my way through "The Complete Works Of Mary Roberts Rhinehart." I like most of her stories and novels, but she wrote some essays that are absurd (and boring). Some of her novel plots have scenes that are impossible to accept and some of her characters (have to keep in mind the time period she writes in) are stereotypical and hard to believe, but mostly are interesting.
     My random book of the moment - I usually have at least one book I just came across that is nothing like what I usually read - is an ARC of Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson. About a Prince Charming and Evil Stepmother who have left the "Kingdoms" to come to the "Greater World" and fall in love while trying to help each other sort out their lives and overcome the stereotypes associated with them. It's very well written and I recommend it for anyone that likes urban fantasy romance.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Solitaire As A Working Tool

     I hear writers all the time say, either by voice or in writing, that some of their primary distractions are things like facebook, the internet, blogs and solitaire. 
      I always check my facebook, but that's a brief distraction. Once I've seen all the new posts from people whose posts I care to see, what else is there to look at?  Same is true for blogs: I regularly read and comment on those I follow faithfully, then I'm done.  (Blogging myself is considered a work exercise and sometimes it's rather a chore.) I can't think of enough things on the internet to distract me because I don't shop, don't care to see the crap that's on Youtube, and my husband emails me all the cute stuff he finds on Icanhazacheezburger (not sure that's spelled right). I have on occasion been distracted for hours by the site Texts From Last Night, but I'm often frightend by what I find there and don't go back for awhile.
     So my big distraction is solitaire, especially Freecell and Spider Solitaire. Also Sudoku, but not as much. I have found a way to make this into a productive activity. I use a game or puzzle or two to gauge my mental/creative state before I write.  If I win 2 games of Spider Solitaire or whip through a diablolically challenging sudoku puzzle, that tells me I am in top form and ready to take on any writing project I have going.  However, if I can't do well at either of those and downgrade to Freecell and can't even master that, it tells me that taking on difficult revisions or part of a WIP I'm struggling with is not the best idea. In fact, it could be disasterous in the form of making a bigger mess than what I was dealing with originally.
      These games and puzzles are also a great warm-up excercise for both sides of your brain - organizational and creative. So starting out with them can be motivational. However, if I don't have a lot of time, I can easily use it up with my "pre-writing" activities. Which downgrades them right back to "distraction".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What We Can Learn From Our Idols (Part 4)

     Another author that I admire is Rick Riordan. I am amazed that some writers can create books that appeal to kids and adults. There may be many others that can do this, but I suspect most of them are in the fantasy genre and except for JKR, I don't know many. Outside of fantasy I can only think of Ann Brashears Traveling Pants series; I know many girls and women who have loved them.
     Riordan's books weave a complicated plot and engaging characters with authentic myths as well as facts, history and geography.  As a fan, this is a bonus for me because I love myth, history and geography, but don't like to do research.
     I am not interested in being able to write fiction for the 9-99 age group.  What I would like to do as well as Riordan is write books for more than one series that are so different, you wouldn't guess they had the same author.  The Percy Jackson books are written in the first person. His Heroes of Olympus Series is written in the third person from the perspective of different characters and they all have a distinct voice. His Kane Chronicles are written in the first person from two seperate points of view, again succesfully narrated from two very different personalities. 
     I have two series of books, one written in third person and one in first person.I also have a series of short stories to accompany my books and I write them in either first or third person and from the perspective of diffferent characters. I like to think my main characters are not exactly alike. Or even kind of alike. But I know this is an area of my writing that I can improve and will work toward that.
     Now that I'm thinking about it, Riordan wrote several books in the first person, then a couple of books in the first person narrated by two different characters, then a book or two in the 3rd person from various points of view. This looks like a case of practice and you will improve; with lots of practice you will improve a lot. Well, nothing new there I guess.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Responsibility Of Character Naming

     My older sister got a new car for her birthday. Her old car, Diana Rose, was named after Princess Diana. Her new car is blue and named Saphira Danielle, after the dragon in the book Eragon. It was interesting to learn that my oldest sister had named her blue laptop Saphira after the same dragon.
     My oldest sister has had dogs named Senay and Corlath, both I believe from The Hero and the Crown and (its sequel or prequel) The Blue Sword. Her daughter has two cats named Annabeth and Poseidon, after characters in the Percy Jackson series and they also have a dog named Sirius (Black) from Harry Potter and a cat named Rupert, after the actor who plays Ron in the HP movies.
     Even if my family didn't have more pets than children, we probably wouldn't name children after characters from books, but people do. I think authors should be aware of this and keep it in mind.
     As if chosing great, appropriate names for characters isn't enough, now we have to think there's a small chance that fans are going to choose those names for their two- or four-legged loved ones. I don't think any characters in my books or stories are going to be selected as pet or children's names, but I wonder if that would affect my choices in character names.
      This trend works both ways. Authors and writers often choose names of characters - both hero and villain - from people they have known.  So when people select unique/bizarre names for their children, they should remember that they may be inspiring the monikers for characters in the next generation's literature. Which could impact the names of future children...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Productivity Under Stress

     My writers group (Living Writers Collective) started a facebook group to keep in touch with members about projects and struggles and to share inspiration and encouragement.  One member posted 101 items to blog about. It's for blogging in general, not just for blogs about writing or books, but most can be applied to anything. One of the suggestions was  "How to stay productive when _______________."
     Tonight I'm there. Had an awful event in my family and everyone is reeling and it's one of those things where you can't do anything to help the situation.  Hardly a time to feel creative or productive. I have been cleaning the house and doing laundry like mad just out of my need to do something. I decided to take a break before I physically exhaust myself and to do something else productive - blog.
     I am once again trying to stay on a schedule of posting something twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Although I can write my blogs at anytime and have them post on future dates, I still have to write them. I hope having a deadline will help me deal with my lack-of-self-discipline issues.
     Helen, the heroine of my book series, often has situations she doesn't know how to deal with or has to bide her time when acting on something. The most common way she deals with that is to write. Since she's a ficitonal character, she has no trouble totally losing herself in her project and it keeps her mind off her problem and keeps her productive.
     It's possible this might work for writers in the real world. Somewhere in one of my stories, Helen notes the fact that in her ficitonal worlds she creates the problems and therefore usually knows how to solve them. That could make a writer feel like they are productive and at least able to be active in finding solutions, even if not able to in their real life. A good form of therapy anyway, if it works.
     I don't know if I could do that. I've never tried. I tend to automatically think, "I couldn't possibly write now, while I'm panicked/depressed/upset/whatever."  But my current situation makes me want to try it. And since this is not something that's going to go away anytime soon, I will certainly have the chance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day Jobs

     I'm taking a break from writing about my favorite writers and how much I wish I were as good as they are. Because they are amazing, I have something they don't: a day job. I'd like to one day find out how much and how well I could write if I had all my working hours to do it.
      I know from brief interludes of joblessness (or more often, times of having only one full-or part-time job and not two), that I do not make the best use of my available writing time when I have lots of it. I strongly believe that actually earning money from writing would be a huge motivator. I find otherwise I often feel like I am spinning my wheels, wasting my time, when I could be doing something that earns money.
     Having (almost) always had a day job - many, many of them - I have firm opinions about the best kind for a writer to have. Mainly that is  primarily physical, preferably mindless and low-stress. This allows the writer to spend most of their work day "writing" in their heads, which is what most of us do anyway. It also leaves the writer with plenty of mental energy to put that writing down on paper after work.
     Of course, having a mostly menial job means it's likely to be low-paying. This is also an advantage. It means the writer has no extra money to spend on any frivilous activity that might distract them from writing. It's also helps motivate them to be successful in their writing endeavors so they can make money from it.
     I currently do not have a mindless job. I process books for a bookseller and have to concentrate fully on everything I do. However, it is a job I love and therefore not stressful and it is very inspirational to be surrounded by books all the time. The really bad books you see published make you feel like you can write really well, and the really great ones make you want to.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What We Can Learn From Our Idols (part 3)

     Another of my very favorite writers in the world is Charlaine Harris, particularly her Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series.   What I love most about these books is that no matter how odd the situation or the characters/creatures that the heroine becomes involved with, the story is grounded in the real world.  In some urban fantasies, the supernatural aspects make the reader feel that whatever's happening couldn't really be in our world. There's the feeling that "our" world as it is depicted in the novel is not as we have always percieved it. In the Sookie books, the reader has the sense that events and beings in the story could very well be part of the reality we know.
     My Daylight's End books feature unusual beings and occurances and I feel I accomplish what Charlaine Harris does with her Southern Vampire Novels. I am pleased about that because that is exactly how I want the books and stories to be. However, I did not manage that through writerly skill; more because of lack of it. I'm just not adept enough to create a world significantly different from the reality I know.
     My other series, Trust In Darkness, needs to convey more of a feeling that the world of the characters both is and is not exactly as they have always seen it. That may prove harder to do, but so far I think I'm succeeding.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What We Can Learn From Our Idols (part 2)

     Another of my favorite authors who has a gift I would like to learn is Jim Butcher. I am a huge fan of his Dresden Files books.
     All novelists have heard that to keep a plot moving you have to give your protagonist a problem to solve and then keep adding more trouble and more and more obstacles to overcome. Butcher is a master at this. 
     In almost every book he gives his hero, Harry Dresden, a difficult problem then a complication that makes it impossible to solve. THEN he adds two more issues that create a situation where if Dresden fixes one thing, something terrible happens, but if he prevents that from happening, another catastrophe will occur.
     The real magic is that somehow Butcher keeps all these plotlines going full speed and at the end resolves all issues. That doesn't mean everything works out perfectly - often people die, the hero fails in some way, bad stuff happens - but all aspects of the story are wrapped up in a way that is satisfying to the reader.
     I have discovered that I am not (yet) capable of writing more than one main storyline and a couple of subplots without making a huge mess of a manuscript. But thanks to Jim Butcher, I know it can be done and I like to think I will get there someday.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What We Can Learn From Our Idols

     My writers group, Living Writers' Collective, has been celebrating our 5th year by having members contribute their Top Five on various topics which are then published on the group's website. Recently the category centered on who our top five favorite writers were and what we learned from them. For me it's a case of 'what do I wish I could learn from them'. Back in July I blogged about some of my favorite authors and I wanted to mention what they do well that I wish I could.
     Dick Francis. IMO best mystery/thriller writer ever. According to his biography, he never edited or rewrote anything; he just made sure before wrote the words that the words he was putting down were precisely the way he wanted them. Hard to believe - I have never heard another writer make that claim. In fact, most say exactly the opposite. That's not what I wish I could learn to do, although it would be cool.
     DF's plots are great, but what I love most are his characters. Within the first few pages I fall in love with nearly all his protagonists. Most of his books are written in the first person and you find out a great deal about them very quickly, all through their thoughts and actions.
     The main characters don't describe themselves. They don't say, "I refuse to let people bully others", "I'm kind and generous", or "I'm insecure, but always try my best". Other characters don't describe the protagonist: "He believes in hard work and honesty"; "He has no tolerance for liars and cheats". Yet the reader knows these things clearly very early in the narrative.
     I read and re-read Francis' books to try to learn how he does it. I've not yet been able to pinpoint it. I have not been able to emulate it. In fact, I'm not good enough to even come close. But I keep trying. And because of Dick Francis, I know it can be done and what to aim for.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

About That Muse...

     A writer friend of mine recently joined the Writers' Loft program at MTSU and one of their first excercises was to visualize their muse. She was delighted to learn that hers took the form of a beautiful, strong chestnut horse. When I commented that a horse would be very suitable muse for me, she asked what mine looked like.
     I responded that mine was apparently a shapeshifter and possibly schizophrenic. (Wanna know how to really piss of your muse...?) Mostly I envision my muse as an angel or a fairy, but sometimes a winged unicorn/pegasus or a dragon. (Interesting that the forms are always winged.)What my muse is consistent about is being female. That explains the moody, unpredicatable, unreasonable reputation all muses have, but it could also be attributed to 'artistic temperment'.
     I am lucky that mine is mostly good-natured, if frequently MIA. I have one writer friend whose muse is so mean, she has a video of it appearing in its corporeal form and pooping on her WIP. My muse is never critical or discouraging, for which I am grateful. If she's not always around when I need her...well, if we didn't ever struggle, we wouldn't appreciate the times when writing is easy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pets As Characters

     I had to put my dog to sleep this week. I've had to do this with many pets over the years and it never gets easier. I've had lots of dogs and most of them live (and remain in great health) until they are very old. Then their bodies give out and I have to do what I can to keep them from suffering.
     Tapestry, affectionately know as Pest, was a 10-year-old Irish Wolfhound. He was a rescue dog I adopted from the Irish Wolfhound Association of the Great Smoky Mountains when he was three.
     I have other dogs, dogs I've had longer, ones I have raised since they were puppies, and I love them dearly. But they are not Pest. All of my dogs, horses and cats are individuals, each with a very distinct personality - and lots of it.
     I cannot imagine a life without animals and pets, and I have difficulty imagining a fictional world without them. In my books and stories animals are minor, but important, characters. Even human characters who are not animal-lovers generally live in a world full of pets and pet owners. They have to deal with things like an annoying stray cat, crazy neighbors with weird pets, a dog that runs loose and causes havoc in the community. Fictional pets and animals don't have to be outrageous or even unusual, but I feel they do have to be more than a prop or a part of the setting.
     A book without animals in it  feels as wrong to me as my house or barn without a dog or cat underfoot (or in the bathtub, on the couch or on my keyboard).  When you think about it, animals can add aspects (and dialogue) to a plot that you can't get with other characters, such as: "If you lie on the stairs, we will both get hurt." "Didn't I just feed you twelve hours ago?" or "You don't need a waterbowl; this house has three toilets."
     Pets and animals in fiction can be sidekicks, companions, partners, caretakers, or troublemakers. They can help save the day or add complications or create choas. What they can't be is missing altogether.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What My Animals Have Taught Me About Writing

     My horses don't write, nor do they read. They do often get to listen to me plotting, questioning, and revising out loud while riding, grooming or doing barn chores. They don't comment on any of that either. 
     One way I support my horses is by teaching riding lessons. Like any sport or activity, participants improve by having a teacher, mentor, coach, trainer or fellow athlete critique their performance.
     Among writers, the word 'critique', even to those of us that know better, evokes the image of being told what is wrong and what needs improvement.   I know from taking riding lessons that I progress better with encouragement than criticism.  Therefore, that is how I teach my students - and my horses.
     Of course, no one can improve in what they do with only encouragement. Problems need to be addressed and corrected, new practices and methods have to have to be tried, what isn't right needs to be changed.
     But if a rider's leg position is great and someone only tells them that their upper body is out of balance, concentrating only on keeping their back straight might make the rider not keep their heels down as well, or forget to keep their hands even, etc. When giving lessons, I always remind and encourage students about what they are doing right before mentioning what needs improvement. "Your hands are exactly where they need to be. You need to stretch up taller in the saddle, but keep your hands where you have them because they are just right", sounds better to me than, "You're not looking up and your lower leg is loose and you need to hold your fingers tighter on the reins! Will you ever learn to sit back properly...?"
      Consider how we teach animals. Horses and dogs in training would get sour very quickly if they were only corrected for mistakes and never praised for acomplishments. Most animals will do as much or  more to earn praise than to avoid punishment.
     Something my two critique buddies do very well - that I am SO grateful for - is to always comment on things they love about my work. They will point out where and how characterization needs improvement, but praise how good the dialogue is. This encourages me to fix the issue with my characters AND encourages me to keep writing effective dialogue. 
     We need to always keep this in mind when critiquing others work.  Hearing nothing but criticism, however neccessary or gently delivered, is disheartening to anyone. Make sure others know where their strengths are so they keep them strong.
     Writers need this. We are very anxious about having our work shared with others only to have the flaws made clear to us.  Knowing we can expect praise as well lessens the sting.
     In most things, letting people (and animals) know what they are doing right is as important as telling them what needs to be done better.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To Write or Not....

     It is said that to be successful in writing you have to write. A certain amount of time or pages or just anything - if not every day, then regularly - no matter what.
     I  recently came across a fellow writer who said we shouldn't waste our time writing if we're uninspired (or tired or frustrated), because whatever we create will just need to be thrown away or re-written the next writing session. Which is  a valid argument, but for some it may be better to have something, however bad, to work with the next session than the same blank page you left the day before.
     I recently spoke to another writer who also thought working on a WIP when you can't focus is a waste of time and energy, but she still advocated writing something everyday. If you can't work productively on your current project, then blog, write a journal entry or a letter to Aunt Jane. This also makes sense.
     The truth is, you have to make time to write and you have to use your writing time wisely. There is so much more to the writing life than just creating. Blogs and websites have to be kept updated, markets have to be researched, submissions sent out, outlines written, revisions made.
     Because I have a full-0time job and other commitments, I try to prioritize my work, with the most important work in progress being at the top of the list. If I can't make any progress on that, I go to something else. I have to be at my most alert to work on revisions, even more so than on a first or second draft.  Marketing and submissions I can do when I have no creative spark at all. 
     One trick I use to see where I'm at mentally is games and puzzles. (See "Solitaire As A Writing Tool"). A quick game of Spider Solitaire will let me know how well my brain cells are functioning at any particular time of day. Even better are Sudoku puzzles. If I struggle through an easy or medium level one, it's probably not a good time to tackle a difficult writing issue. If I zip through a challenging or difficult game or puzzle, I know I'm at the top of my game and need to take advantage of that.
     We each have to do what works best for us, but trying new things can help us find what it is that does work.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How Is That A Bad Thing?

     This weekend I attended a writers' seminar organized by a member of my writers group, Dr. Trisha Petty, of Antebellum Productions and Cellophane Ministries. My friend Mary Ann was sitting next to me and said exactly what I was thinking; that the problem with any kind of writing seminar, workshop, or conference is that they never fail to teach you something.
     You're wondering how that is a bad thing. The trouble with learning something new is that you want to apply it to all your writing, especially your WIP.
     How is that a bad thing? It makes you want to go home and revise, reorganize, possibly even start over with whatever your current project is, incorporating whatever new concept or skill you have discovered.
     The problem with that is the amount of work it creates. You can't resist the urge to use what you have learned improve your writing, no matter how much time, energy and hard work it will involve.
    Can you still not see what's wrong with that?
     I guess I can't either.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writers Are Readers

     There's something you didn't know. Well, I have been told that not all writers are rabid - I mean avid - readers, but I've never met a writer that wasn't a book lover. Some people in the industry advise writing what you like to read. Others say not to do that because you may unintentionally copy the work of writers you like.
     Since most writers are bibliophiles who will and do read anything and everything, like me, they probably like to read different types of books. I like mysteries and claim to write them (however else others might classify my writing). But I also like paranormal, biographies, humor, fantasy, historical fiction, travel, memoir...
     I believe what a writer reads and which authors they like says something about them, if not about their writing, so I want to share who some of my favorite authors are.
     The best, most amazing, wonderful mystery novel writer ever is Dick Francis. Stephen King is also an incredible novelist, but much of what he writes is stuff I can't read, so I can't enjoy his work properly.
     My other writing idol is Charlaine Harris. (See "What We Can Learn From Our Idols).
     Authors I love whose new books I await impatiently for months and then read in a matter of hours: Janet Evanovich, Tim Dorsey, Mary Janice Davidson, Jim Butcher, Rick Riordan.
     Writers I like and have read many, but not all of their books: Robert B. Parker, Dean Koontz, Elizabeth Peters, Harlan Coban.
     Classics I read over and over are those of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Mary Roberts Rhinehart. (All mystery writers, notice.)
     Being a children's librarian there are also YA authors I read and love, including Sharon Creech and Robert Newton Peck, as well as certain kids books I like, such as the Henry and Mudge, Encyclopedia Brown and Nate the Great books.
     I'm sure there are others in all these categories that I'm not thinking of right now. There are a few authors whose work I've read avidly and then lost interest in, but I won't mention them here.
     All of this says something about me as a writer. I plan to explore and share soon what it is about these authors that I most enjoy and admire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

About This Blogging Thing...

     I have a writer friend I admire very much, who blogs twice a week on a schedule, almost without fail. I like knowing when I can check her blog and be assured of something fun and enlightening to read. I have another writer friend who I admire very much who blogs on no set schedule, just whenever she feels like it, has time or has something to say. I love checking her blog and it's a nice surprise when she's written something new.
     I think blogging is good. If nothing else it is a chance to practice writing, conveying ideas and putting thoughts into words. Even better if you have something worthwhile to say, in my case passing along information that might be helpful or encouraging to writers.
     Being someone with very little self-discipline, I have a difficulty making good use of what little writing time I can eke out of my crazy life.  I have been trying to make and keep a schedule, but I'm not doing so well. I thought  it might help to plan to blog twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I managed to do that one time. Then last week's Thursday blog didn't get done until Sunday and Tuesday's was Wednesday and Thursday's was Friday...
     So I'm not sure this is helping me. It's good to make myself write when I don't feel like it, but I  suspect that I am using blogging as my writing excercise instead of working on the novel revisions I have to do.  I could adopt my other friend's practice of blogging regularly, but not according to a strict plan.
     I have another writer friend who is doing a blogging project and blogging every day for 30 days, but I also know she's writing several at once to post on different days. I could try that, but does it defeat the purpose of writing excercise or does it work like an assigment where does it not matter when you write something as long you get it finished by the deadline?
     Maybe I should stop debating this and go work on my damn novel...

Friday, July 15, 2011

When Is A Writer Not A Writer?

     A few blogs ago I expounded on the fact that to be a writer you simply have to write - anything. Some people are writers professionally and while I assume they have a gift for it, I feel like a writer should also have the desire to write. Strong desire.
     My last blog I mentioned meeting a writer who was a success without trying to be and I offered the opinion that it wasn't a good thing to have happen. This is why:
     The first writer's workshop I ever attended was a talk given by an author of a children's book. A book so popular that when I took a course on writing children's literature it was part of the curriculum. Many years later, when I was in grad school taking a class on children's lit while studying Library Science, this book was again featured as a great example. Somewhere between those classes, closer to the former than the latter, I went to hear this author speak.
     I won't mention the title out of professional courtesy. I don't remember her name. I recently looked her up and found she went on to write dozens of books (that are now all out of print). I don't recall details of the talk she gave, but essentially she told us she got an idea for a kids' book and she wrote it. This was her first and only book at the time. 
      There is one thing she said that I remember so well I can quote it.  During the Q and A she was asked the always-asked question: "How can aspiring writers get published?" Her response was that she
showed her book to a friend who was (or had) an agent or editor and they loved it and it was published. Then she said, "I don't know what the rest of you do. Isn't there some book you can use? Writer's Market or something?"
     I was disgusted. This person, in my opinion, was a successful author who wasn't a writer. She didn't live or even love to write. I don't mind that she was so lucky - I wish that for everyone. I hate that she was so complacent about her good fortune. Other writers who have this experience know the value. They know how lucky they are and tell others how grateful they are for it.
     So why do I think of this woman as a non-writer? I've wondered for years and come to a conclusion. It's not that she isn't talented and maybe she even liked to write. But I feel writer's all share something. Whatever our experience, type of writing, age, creed, or level of success, we all relate to each other.  We understand the difficulties and triumphs, frustration and elation - the struggle - that writers share.
     She didn't. She didn't get it.  For all her ease in writing and getting published and continuing success with future books, I think she missed out.
     There's some quote about how success is sweeter when you have to work for it because you appreciate it more and another quote about how it's not the destination, it's the journey. While sometimes writing feels like a journey on a treadmill, much of the joy is in the doing and being part of a community of others just like you, however different we may be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Life Happens

     My writer's group, Living Writer's Collective, organized a writer's workshop last month. We invited local author Lisa Patton to come speak and she was wonderful. I think the best thing about  writers at any level meeting published authors is that they realize there is nothing special about them.
     Lisa said her topic for this talk was hope and she mainly wanted to encourage writers. To this end she told everyone that she was "just like them." This is what writers need to hear. They need to know that the only thing most published writers have in common is perseverence. Keep writing, keep working toward your goals.
     Another thing she emphasized was that she, just like most authors and most of the audience, wrote a book while raising a family and working full time; in spite of family illness, death and grief and what she referred to as "life happening", and that anyone can do it.
      So write in spite of it all. Through lack of inspiration, through exhaustion, rejection and despair, a few minutes at a time if that is all that you have. Few writers I've heard of ever got published without trying. I'll tell my story about one of those writers soon, and share my opinion about why success in writing without effort is not a good thing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How To Be A Writer

     At our writer's meeting last week, (Living Writers Collective - an amazing group of people) we had several new members and visitors.  Our custom is to go around and quickly give our names and say something about our writing. Our group is great. We have every kind of writer, (children's stories to nonficiton, poetry to inspriational, every genre you can think of) at every level; some have been published widely, some a few times, some never, some write regular f'eatures.
     Among the two most honest statements were (I'm paraphrasing), "I don't write, I just like to come to the meetings and be around creative people and writers." This was from a long term, attends-every-meeting member whose critique suggestions are often the most helpful and well-communicated.
     Another, from a woman who regularly accompanied her teenage grandson, was, "I'm not a writer, but I love to listen to the work being read and critique writing."
      A few members and visitors just offered their names with no comment about thier writing or ambitions, and one listed her many accomplishments, which  I thought may have intimidated the newbies. I said that I write  fiction, mostly mysteries and some paranormal. My friend and critique-buddy said, "I write horror, I've had a story and an article published."
     What distressed me was that among both visitors and regular members were the number of people who referred to themselves as "wannabe" or "aspiring" writers, or said they "would like to/were trying to/attempt to" be writers. Many of these were very talented people who had written finished books and published stories. I wanted to scream.
     What I wanted to scream was (this is a quote from somewhere, but I believe in it), "To be a writer, all you have to do is write."
     It doesn't matter if it's one-line poetry, poorly-told anecdotes, personal journal entries, greeting cards, bawdy limericks - if you write anything, particulary because you love writing, you are a writer. There's no other criteria. You don't have to publish, submit or even share your work with another person.
     If you have the desire to write, and you do so in any form, you are a writer.
    So write.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Success Via Failure

     Writers, even successful ones, have their work rejected.  While we are told to stay positive, rejection is a kind of failure.  According to many adages, failure is neccessary for success.
     One of my favorite quotes (from my point of view as a writer) is this one from Winston Churchill:
     "Success consits of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."
     Is that not the best quote for writers? I love it.
     Here are some others:

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other." - Abe Lincoln.

"Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success." - Dale Carnegie

"Failure is success, if we learn from it." - Malcom Forbes

"It is better to be a failure at something you love, than a success at something you hate." - George Burns

If you seek out quotes and wisdom about success, you will find that most of them mention failure as being part of the process, and not in a negative way.  It is important for writers to always view rejection and struggles as part of the process to improve their craft and achieve publishing goals.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rejection disclaimer

     Anyone that has had a piece of writing rejected by an editor, publisher or agent is familiar with some form of  the following statements:  "Our rejection of your story is in no way a reflection on your writing", "We read a lot of great stories we are unable to take", "It might be a perfect fit for someone else".
     Any and/or all these statements might be true. Or it could be that your writing sucks. This phrase used to be as pointless to me as, "This isn't right for us". Thanks to an experience I had last year, words like those above now serve as a confirmation and reminder that any rejection of my work does not mean it isn't great.
     I entered a short story contest (Cafe Doom) in which all entrants had to read and judge all the contest submissions. We were to pick our top three choices for first, second and third place and provide feedback when and where we could. I have to say this was an incredible experience that all writers should participate in!
     There were 60 entries, ranging from 3 to 20 pages and the stories were mainly of the fantasy/sci-fi/horror/paranormal variety. A lot of them I just hated. However, I loved a lot of them, too.  Choosing the 10 I liked most was hard, cutting it down to 3 was impossible. Even among the 3 I finally settled on, it was hard to decide which I loved best.
     The most difficult thing was figuring out why. Some I loved everything about. Characters, setting, writing style, plot. Some stories I loved one or more things about, but not other aspects of the work. How do you decide what facet of a story should be more important?
     What I did learn first-hand from this was how hard an editor's job is. Most importantly, the statement "Our rejection of your work does not mean it isn't great" is no longer ambiguous to me. I know exactly what it means and that it is true.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


     I had riding instructor once tell me that when working with a horse, you are either training or untraining. That makes sense in regard to horses. Horses assume that whatever message you are sending is the one they are supposed to be learning. So if you are riding badly, or communicating the wrong things to your mount, they are learning the wrong things.
      That does not apply to writing. Writing badly, while not something you neccessarily want to do, is often what you have to do.  The difference is you can fix the writing. You can recognize bad writing and improving it through rewriting and revision is an important part of the writing and learning process. Repairing something that is broken is a great way to learn everything about it.
     I often hear the phrase 'unproductive writing'. We have to remind ourselves that there is no such thing. If you look at it the wrong way, working out can be seen as unproductive. Spending several hours a week walking, doing aerobics, weight lifting, or climbing stairs may not help me practice my riding skills, but keeping my muscles in shape makes a huge difference in how well I ride. If you don't write, if you don't practice, you can't improve and may even lose the skills you have. The only way to untrain yourself in writing, is to not do it.

Friday, June 3, 2011


     Titles are great things. Except when they're not. They are always important. A title is the ultimate hook. Which means they should be good.
     I have a problem with titles. Mine and other writers'. I don't like long titles, but I prefer them to uninspired short titles.   One- or two-word titles can be fun or useless, especially if you don't know what kind of story or book the title is telling about.
     My favorite author of all time, Dick Francis, has great short titles: Proof, Slay Ride, Comeback, High Stakes. Stephen King has some great one word titles: Desperation, Insomnia, It. However, SK also has uninspired titles. His first big hit was called Carrie. And he's had a few more titled with the name of the main character.
     The problem with titles, as with many things, is that different readers are intrigued by different things. "The Blue Room" doesn't interest me at all. For someone for whom the color blue is significant, that might be a title that draws their attention. "The Scarecrow" should make anyone wonder what the story was about, simply because scarecrows are just creepy. "Sunset" to a horror or dark fiction fan, would mean the coming of scary darkness. To someone of a more inspirational mindset, it might suggest peacefulness, relaxing at the end of the day, the promise of tomorrow.
     The title, "Me and Bobby" doesn't interest me. "Me and Bobby Under The Ground" might get my attention. "Taxi". So what? "Invisible Taxi". Hmmm. "The Baby". Boring. "The-Thousand-Year-Old Baby", Not boring. "Our Cab Driver" vs. "Our Cab Driver Is Dead"  And so on.
     I read somewhere that a good title should come from the story; should tell something about the story. Therefore, an interesting story should inspire a good title, something that would draw potential readers. That sounds a lot easier than it is, but if I - and other writers - can remember that one bit of advice, the chance of choosing a nondescript title will be much smaller.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Identity Crisis?

     When people ask me what I write I say, "Mysteries, mostly."
     When my mother tells people her daughter is a writer, she says, "She writes about vampires." Members of my writer's group, The Living Writers Collective, have also been known to say that.
     According to "the industry", my latest books and stories are not mysteries. Depending on the source you consult, my current writing is "urban fantasy" or "speculative" or "paranormal". I am not opposed to some of my writing being called paranormal mysteries. However, I also write mysteries about horses and other perfectly ordinary animals.
     It's possible I call my books and stories mysteries because that makes them more mainstream. Maybe I don't want to be pigeonholed.(If that isn't a word it should be).
     Many writers, beginners to bestsellers, write more than one kind of book. In the past, publishers have  made writers choose psudonyms under which to publish books other than the ones they are best known for. I think it's good that the industry is moving away from that, but it does get confusing for bookstores and patrons. Do you look for Charlaine Harris books under "Paranormal/Urban Fantasy" or "Mystery"?
     The first book in my  series, Daylight's End, features a vampire and the fact that he is a vampire is central to the plot. But it also includes a mystery that is completely unrelated to the vampire character.
     In my second book, Before Daylight (sequel to the first), there is another vampire, who is central to one part of the plot, but again, there's a mystery that has nothing to do with the supernatural. Beyond Daylight (working title of book 3) will feature yet another vampire and a sorcerer. Book 4, will also feature more vampires and probably another non-human or two.
    I have written many stories about the characters from my novels. I must admit, while many of them can be called mysteries, some cannot. And in my Daylight stories, all plots as well as most characters, involve supernatural elements. These stories also feature characters from books 3 and 4, both novels which are yet-to-be-completed works in progress. And I'm certain characters introduced in some of the stories will turn up in later novels.
     So, is my writing mystery or paranomal?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What Character Names Tell Us. Or Don't.

At a recent creative writing meeting, our group did an exercise in choosing character names using a dictionary and thesaurus. We were given a brief description of a setting, as well as personalities and professions of various characters. The idea was to use words that were not proper nouns to fit different characters.
     A person's given name doesn't neccessarily tell anything about their personality, but it can offer some hints. If someone named Walter chooses to use his childhood nickname, "Pee Wee", or prefers others to call him "Bear", that indicates something about him.  If a man named Robert Covington Smith wants to be called Covington, but is called Bobby by all his friends and family, that says something about  his self-image and how he is seen by others. A girl whose family has always called her Princess might have always been treated like one, and that may have affected who she is as an adult. Or not.
     Names can indirectly give information, particularly about characters' families and upbringing. Families that favor ethinic or tradtional names may  have a different world view and values than a family that favors names from ancient myths or classic literature.
     A daughter being given a grandmother's maiden name shows strong roots in the culture of the Old South.   A biblical name might mean the person was raised by highly religous people.  A child could be named after a famous person that the parents respected, illuminating values and traits the parents consider important. Or not.
     A name might be chosen simply because it was great uncle Fester's name, or because parents thought it sounded pretty or dignified. Even this shows something about the character's environment and the influence it might have had.
     While a writer can use names to offer background information about characters, it may seem contrived for a  saintly character to be named Serenity or Patience, or the town's biggest flirt to have the name Chastity. Or not.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Now What?

     I've been thinking about starting a blog. So I decided to investigate how to set one up. Apparently it's pretty easy, because it seems now I have one. Not sure how that happened. And now I'm supposed to post something. Hmmm...
     My debate about blogging mostly concerned the idea that anyone would want to read what I had to say. It should be something worthwhile and worth sharing and center on things that are important to me, like writing and reading. My husband and my family are wonderful and important to me, but I'm not quite so willing about sharing them.
     I have, like everyone, read blogs that seem pointless. That seems harsh. I should say I feel they have nothing to offer me or hold my interest. I also read and follow a few blogs that are entertaining and enlightening. (My real inspiration came from The Black Ichor blog, written by one of my writing friends.) I would like mine to be like that - interesting and useful to others who love things like books and writing. That's what I will aim for.
     Before I made this leap, inadvertent as it was, I did identify a few topics I wanted to write about. My uncertainty about blogging is one of the first and so this is it. Now I just have to remember what the other things were.